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Sanja Mitrovic, Will You Ever Be Happy Again

Nóra Bükki Gálla

In films it is always Germans playing the bad guys and they always lose in the end – that is the stereotype director and stage performer Sanja Mitrovic starts her documentary piece with. Following her narrative we enter a world of personal and collective memory to re-think roles, cliches and sympathies.

Mitrovic finished her philology studies in Serbia to move to the Netherlands where she continues to make theatre performances with a strong social and emotional awareness. Her stage is a micro-world of pressing cultural and political issues that can be regarded in a broader international context.

Will You Ever Be Happy Again is presented as a collection of childhood games revived; the two players on stage (Jochen Stechmann is there to show us the German side of the coin) finish playing Partisans versus Nazis to indulge in a series of role games. We get to see Mitrovic’s childhood drawings of bombs, fires and victorious Yugoslavian heroes, followed by what seems to be a Zen teaching but turns out to be a fake story glorifying the people’s Great Leader, Tito. (He is living ‘in the heart of the trees’, so how could he not live in the hearts of his people?) The episodes of a Serbian girl’s life are completed by a German personal history of communist-killer grandfather and a family document of Arian origin. (‘You never know.’) The absurdity of it all doesn’t stop the two players from following their individual patterns of blame, anger and remorse – with occasional flickers of happiness, when bad memories seem like a joke, something to be dismissed with a wave.

A variety of objects are used to assist us on this guided tour of recent history: the small statue-head of Tito, devaluated bank notes from Yugoslavia and Serbia, photos from the time of the war(s),a German soldier’s helmet, pages of newspapers – anything and everything from the Bad Days That Are Over but Still With Us in Many Ways. These objects are taken from two cardboard boxes on the side of the stage and are used freely, just as the single table and chair set in the left center: the game knows no limits, wounded freedom-fighters turn into careless children or lovers imitating mechanic sex by the rhythm of nostalgic folk-pop as the lyrics appear as subtitles on the back screen.

Movement, images words and sounds are inseparable, everything serves the function of drawing the portrait of these two people and their time – which is our time, we are left with no illusions about that. Mitrovic manages to convey her vision on stage (she is ‘there’ in every sense), while Stechmann plays the quiet counterpart (perhaps too quiet, in comparison). The piece duly ends with the two performers chanting, crying and screaming football anthems (one in Serbian, the other is German), ending in a dissonant note of sarcasm.

Serbia-Germany 2:2, we hear from a radio commentator. And isn’t he right?

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