Where are the golden streets?

d'Lëtzebuerger Land vom 09.12.2011

Following his success with Design for Living in 2008 and with Closer in May this year, Douglas Rintoul was back at the Capucins last week. This time he did not come to direct a play here, but brought his own company. “Transport” are based in south-east England; the play was Invisible by Tena Štiviˇci´c, a Croatian writer who has lived in the UK for eight years now. She writes in both Croatian and English.

Invisible is, first of all, about “The Others”, a handful of people who are looking for a new life in London. It is subtitled “A journey into a world in flux”, which reflects the anonymity of any large city, where lives crisscross each other without necessarily touching. Lara (an utterly convincing Anna Elijasz) is an economic migrant who dreams of being a fashion designer one day and remains relentlessly optimistic. Unlike her, Anton (an outstanding Krystian Godlewski), a carpenter with “hands of gold”, is forced to flee from his home village somewhere in Eastern Europe when ethnic violence erupts. Yet he refuses to even try and like London, his dark broodiness contrasting poignantly with Lara’s high ambitions. Would a more positive attitude feel like a betrayal of his roots and pride?

The play makes you look at Western European societies through the eyes of outsiders. Comedy comes into it repeatedly as situations and attitudes we all feel comfortable with become incongruous and may even start unravelling.

But then Invisible is also about how we live our lives inside “Fortress Europe” today. It is about how middle age hits you, about how relationships may turn sour and make you feel disoriented. What’s more, Štiviˇci´c suggests that globalisation has made a certain type of middle-class per-son restless, too. Thus, Felix (a very moving Jon Foster), an English executive in his mid-thirties, feels that the pressures to succeed have become unbearable. He simply cannot keep up. So, relocating to Romania or to Serbia, where emerging markets and fewer regulations guarantee a more lucrative future, might be an option…

Once identities are established, we drop in and out of individual conversations and lives. The short scenes are beautifully paced, different va-rieties of English adding authenticity to the voices as we move from an airport lounge in Brussels to a trendy flat in Clerkenwell, from the kitchen in a run-down council house to an East End club.

There are seven actors on stage. A change of clothes, of hairstyle and accent swiftly turns four of them into different characters. The action, which is subtly choreographed by Darren Johnston, happens in dreamy slow motion whenever one scene turns into the next one and the cast carry chairs or roll tables across the stage to create a different space.

What is most striking about the staging is the combination of simplicity and precision, of imagination and immediacy. Douglas Rintoul succeeds in creating a stunning diversity of atmospheres – there is the precarious Calais shanty town, the chic dinner-party that goes awry, the polite yet bullying civil servant, the window-cleaner hanging from a 16th floor in the City….

To some degree, the key to Štiviˇci´c’s compassionate and absorbing insight into the often grim parallel world inhabited by asylum seekers and economic migrants is her own experience as a student arriving in London from Croatia all those years ago. As she herself comments: “The emotional impact of being ‘other’ has sensitised me to the migrant expe-rience. I think I felt a fraction of what it must be like to be a migrant when this is not the first or desired choice.” (Psychologies, UK edition July 2010)

Suddenly the groups of young men I pass at a Limpertsberg bus-stop daily were not anonymous anymore! Suddenly the Steinfort campsite and the Pétange “school containers” were given the human dimension that newspaper reports so often lack! Tena Štiviˇci´c’s punchy writing pieces toge-ther fragments of contemporary lives. She invites us to sit back and think.

Invisible was at the Théâtre des Capucins on November 29, 30 and on December 1.
Janine Goedert
© 2023 d’Lëtzebuerger Land