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Review: Family and politics through four generations in 3 Winters, National Theatre


Croatian history isn't my strong point. In fact my knowledge is little to non-existent and it plays a driving force throughout Tena Štivičić’s 3 Winters.

Following four generations of women from the beginning of the collapse of Yugoslavia before the second world war to 2011 it traces the impact of conflict and politics on one family. They are brought together in 2011 for the marriage of Lucia (Sophie Rundle) but the past threatens to spoil the big day. 

3 Winters can in some ways be seen as the story of four very different women and for that it is fascinating. It is certainly a play you need to pay attention to as it jumps back and forth through the generations with the same characters appearing at different ages.

The house in Zagreb where they live is a physical and symbolic presence throughout and ultimately is the driver for narrative. Originally owned by a rich family for whom Lucia's great, great grandmother Monika (Josie Walker) worked it becomes the home of her daughter Rose (Jo Herbert), her husband and baby Masha. Under Yugoslavia's new Socialist  government, after the second world war, private estates were nationalised and Rose chooses to live in the house from where Monika was turned out for falling pregnant while unmarried.

Rose discovers that Karolina (Hermione Gulliford), the daughter of the original owner has been squatting in the house and takes her in to live with her family.

Fast forward and Masha (Siobhan Finneran) is married to a principled teacher with two daughters: Alicia (Jodie McNee) and Lucia.

Covering as much ground as it does, the first half of the play does feel surprisingly overwritten, an overly long exposition for what increasingly becomes a family, character-led drama complete with skeletons forcing their way out of the closet. Once it does get going it is a cracking building nicely to a family show down.

Each of the women has an interesting tale to tell and the focus is not just on the central four, Dunya (Lucy Black) Masha's sister, Karolina and Alicia play just as big a part in the story.

The staging is pretty spectacular too; the Lyttleton rarely disappoints on this score. The house transforms through the generations with flats slowly sweeping across the stage revealing new sets behind. News reel clips and footage from Zagreb through the different ages are projected onto the flats as they move.

I certainly came out of 3 Winters knowing more about Croatian history than when I walked in but I wish I'd done a bit of background reading beforehand to have better understood the context and some of the events and political leaders referenced by the characters.  Where it works best is as story about women adapting in a changing society. It is an ambitious and intelligent piece and if you can stick with it through the first half ultimately has its rewards.

This was the first preview so it may tighten up a bit as it heads towards opening night and there were a couple of very minor technical hiccups but nothing that detracted from the play.

It runs in rep on the National Theatre's Lyttleton stage until February 3 and is two hours and 30 minutes including an interval.


Siobhan Finneran played the scheming lady's maid in Downtown Abbey in which Hugh Bonneville also stars and he can been seen in the film Paddington playing Mr Brown to Mr W's duffle coat wearing bear. Well it is his voice anyway but they were both at the premiere last week so they've definitely met.