Class Enemy

Class Enemy
3 stars ***
Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

THE FINAL WEEK of the Festival approaches, and out of the dark   comes thundering a huge underlying theme of this year’s event; the story of a betrayed generation of young people.  This weekend at the Playhouse, the National Theatre of Scotland opens its new show 365, about the fate of young people emerging from care; for another few days, the Traverse plays host to Once And For All…, the electrifying Flemish show in which thirteen kids play and fight their way towards adulthood.

And now, on stage at the Lyceum, there’s Haris Pasovic’s production, for his Sarajevo-based East-West Theatre Company, of Nigel Williams’s Class Enemy, a play about seven fiercely alienated kids waiting in detention in a broken-down, failing school.  First seen in London in 1978, Williams’s play is an early example of high-energy in-yer-face theatre, full of splattering body fluids and naked contempt for authority; and Pasovic and his young company adapt it to the conditions of modern postwar Sarajevo in ways that entail some very high risks.

They dispense with the play’s beautiful, low-key, menacing ending in favour of a startling burst of gun-crime that provokes audience laughter.  They make three of the characters girls rather than boys, unleashing plenty of disturbing, porn-inflected sexual energy, but blurring the lines of character.  In the translation from Williams’s obscene 1970’s Cockney to contemporary Bosnian street-speak, they lose Williams’s fast-talking, redemptive verbal humour; and most importantly, they lose the powerful kinetic relationship between language and movement, suddenly rediscovered in the brief, electrifying sequences when Pasovic has two young Bosnian hip-hop artists set Williams’s words to their own rap rhythms.

What remains, though, is a fascinating work-in-progress exploration of the space between Williams’s 1978 vision of disaffected youth, and East-West Theatre’s traumatic and traumatised reworking of the material for a battered postwar society; and the production is illuminated by two or three magical performances, notably from Irma Alimanovic and Maja Izetbegovic as the two most obviously vulnerable girls.   “Most people, they pretend they don’t see me,” says one of them early in the show, the words weirdly coinciding with a walk-out by a section of the audience apparently unprepared for a bit of chaos and obscenity.   But the walkers would have done themselves more credit if they had stayed the course, to hear the story of these battered kids to the end.

Joyce McMillan
Until 23 August


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