Sarajevo: review/interview with Aimeé Mica Ntuli

In 2017, I saw, Cheers to Sarajevo, at Alexander Upstairs in Strand Street. This chilling four hander is set in in the Yugoslavian war in 1992 and is a vivid piece of testament theatre: The futility of war and how it shatters relationships and smashes love into hate.

Alexander has since become The Courtyard Playhouse and the play’s name is now Sarajevo.


The play – in various incarnations – with cast and name changes – has toured to festivals. It was staged an international workshop in Ottawa Canada which “focused on 21st century reflections on sexual violence in wars and its trans generational and transnational impact”. It has been staged at The Cape Town Holocaust and Genocide Centre and other centres which foreground Genocide. It will be be staged in Rwanda [2020]. Genocide is genocide. Hate is hate. The play is brutal in its depiction of the utter brutality and violence of war and skewed ideologies and expressions of exceptionalism –ethnic exceptionalism.

The nub of the play remains the same, as Cape Town based theatre maker Aimeé Ntuli says, it is a love story which plays out “between a Bosnian Muslim and a Bosnian Serb”.  The protagonists grew up together in the days of Yugoslavia, when “their differing ethnicities were accepted as a norm in the cosmopolitan city of Sarajevo.” A South African photo journalist becomes embroiled in the fraying relationships and the violence – personal and political. The narrative spews out in a set made from card board – corrugated strips of cardboard which insulates the protagonists from the war and cold outside. It is their nest and hideout. It is nest of love and friendship and also a zone of violence.

When I first saw the play in 2015, I was intrigued by Ntuli’s name in the credits. [At the time, she was Aimeé Goldsmith. This was before she married and changed her name]. I knew that she hailed from Joburg. I was flummoxed. The play conveys a vivid sense of ‘being there’ and I couldn’t figure out how Wits University graduate Ntuli was involved in this piece of intense drama. I then found out that she was ‘there’.

When she was 14, she spent a year in Novi Sad (in the former Yugoslavia) – taking part in the World Karate Championship and studying karate as part of an exchange. Her mother accompanied her on the exchange.

She encountered the reality of war- physically and psychologically: “It was 2002 – after the Kosovo war and NATO bombings. I saw children playing on an incinerated car with a backdrop of buildings shredded by bullet holes. My experience as a naive teen became a haunting reminder of my responsibility to break through the global apathy we feel for war. War, hate and violence are themes that are perpetuated on the international news. The power of theatre is to speak beyond the limitations of media. The play epitomises the importance of compassion, forgiveness and love in a world that is submerged in fear, pain and discrimination.”

After Novi Sad, Ntuli completed her schooling in Joburg which was followed by a drama degree at Wits.  The play gestated from Ntuli’s  first-hand experiences of the after-effects of war in Novi Sad

Since the play, was first staged in Joburg in 2015, it has been performed at the National Arts Festival Makhanda (2016), other festivals, theatres and events. 

There have been changes to cast, shifts in the text and different directors. Ntuli has remained the driving force and is currently directing the play (2020). Samuel Hyde is the producer and performs in the play.

“Sarajevo has become a conduit- a catalyst –for people to share their testimonies of war.”

For Ntuli, the play has gone beyond being a theatre piece and has become a conduit- a catalyst –for people to share their testimonies of war- for instance “dealing with being born out of sexual violence/rape.”

Sarajevo is an evolving piece of testament theatre/art. It has been fed by interaction with audiences around the world; by witnesses’ comments of what they have been through – facing fear, violence, and death. 

A major shift for the current version of Sarajevo is “that diegetic lighting” is being used, rather than artificial lighting, says Ntuli. Diegetic lighting is also known as source lighting. It is lighting that is found at the source- not artificial/stage lighting. It is lighting that is in the landscape of the story. In Sarajevo, lamps, candles and torch lights are used by the protagonists “So you feel like you are in a war – atmosphere of being dark.” The darkness amplifies the sense of being in a war zone; fumbling in the dark; hiding; trying to navigate during power outages, says Ntuli.

Ntuli also says that the violence and brutality in the narrative has deepened considerably. I was terrified when I first saw the play. I shrank in my seat from the brute character, Slobo, who I thought was going to go into the audience and kill me. Slobo was played in that staging by Lamar Bonhomme. He left Cape Town to live on Durban and is no longer part of the cast. The role of Slobo is now played by Ivan Nedeljković.  Ntuli: “Yes, he plays Slobo. He is 38 years old. He was there during the war and lived through it. He came here (South Africa) when he was a teenager. He came to watch a much older version at Theatre on the Square (Johannesburg). He was so moved and asked if I was staging it again and if he could audition for a role.  When Alistair (Moulton Black) immigrated to London and Lamar left to live in Durban, I was looking for a new cast. I called him immediately.”

Image credit. Samuel Hyde, Aimeé Mica Ntuli and Ivan Nedeljković. This pic was supplied and has been edited by TheCapeRobyn as the image was very dark. The play has been staged with source lighting – sans artificial lighting – and additional lighting was not used for the photo shoot which is why the image was very dark and has been edited to show detail.

*If you miss the season at The Galloway Theatre, or you would like to stage the play at your festival or theatre, contact producer, Samuel Hyde on: Producer.sarejevo@gmail.com

Sarajevo – the play – 2020 – credits

Creative team:

Producer: Samuel Hyde

Director: Aimee Mica Ntuli

Writer: Aimee Mica Ntuli

Original score: Samuel Hyde (Onen & Hyde)

Sound design: Denise Onen (Onen&Hyde)

Cast:

Aimeé Mica Ntuli – Mirela

Samuel Hyde – Aleksander

Max du Toit – Peter

Ivan Nedeljković – Slobo

Theatre/ ✈travel advisory: Sarajevo at The Galloway Theatre, Waterfront Theatre School, Cape Town

Dates: February 22 , 2020, at 8pm

Tickets: R100. Block booking of 10+ R80, block booking of 20+ R60

Bookings: Tixsa. Ticket link: https://tickets.tixsa.co.za/event/sarajevo

Booking number: The Galloway Theatre on 065 533 0534


Venue details:  The Galloway Theatre is at Port Road, on site of The Waterfront Theatre School, Cape Town. Secure parking lot next to the college grounds.

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