There are few more poignant places to stage a play about “star-crossed lovers” than in former Yugoslavia, where a rehearsal for a gritty production of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is under way in Belgrade’s trendy but rundown port area of Savamala.
With a cast chosen to reflect the deep divisions that remain in this part of the Balkans, Romeo and the Montagues will be played by Kosovan Albanians while Juliet and the Capulets will be played by Serbians. The production is seen as a chance to push forward dialogue and reconciliation in the region.
“I think this is going to mark the end of the Serbia-Kosovo conflict, symbolically,” said Jeton Neziraj, a Kosovan playwright and one of the play’s co-producers. The play opens on Sunday at the Serbian National Theatre in Belgrade, before moving to the National Theatre of Kosovo in Pristina next month.
After years of bloodshed and tension, Kosovo declared itself independent from Serbia in 2008. Although the Kosovo war ended in 1999, animosity and political difficulties remain, with Serbia refusing to recognise Kosovo and flashpoints between the two countries continuing.
“The gap between these two nations is deep,” said Alban Ukaj, the Kosovan Albanian actor playing Romeo, sitting in a dressing room one morning before rehearsals began.
Ukaj, 34, was a student in Pristina during the war and experienced the bombings first-hand, though he now lives in Sarajevo. “I started to lose faith that this story was ever going to end, so it was important for me that we start something,” he said.
The play is a joint production by two theatre organisations, Belgrade-based Radionica Integracije and Pristina-based Qendra Multimedia, and is partly aimed at showing that Serbians and Kosovans can engage and work together, at least on stage.
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