ODA Theatre, premiere 19th December 2023
The past meets the present and cultures collide in Jeton Neziraj’s new play Charles III, directed by Agon Myftari for Qendra Multimedia.
Muji and Halili, revered warriors and comrades in arms from Albanian folk ballads The Songs of the Frontier Warriors, meet King Charles III of England. He has come to Kosovo, together with KFOR, to search for Edith, a writer from the UK who is best known for her anthropological accounts of life in Albania in the early 20th century. This is sly reference to Edith Durham, the character also appeared in Neziraj’s previous play Burrnesha. Here she is the king’s distant cousin, known as Madam Z, who has come to Albania to study the special sounds found only in an Albanian cave in the Accursed Mountains, only to fall in love with one of the warriors.
Dukagjin Podrimaj, Blend Sadiku, Vjosë Tasholli, Dardan Gashi, and Albina Krasniqi all play multiple roles within the play, using changes in vocal tone to show their shifts between characters, rather than changing costumes. Dukagjin Podrimaj plays both Charles III and Muji while wearing the same costume. (Although this wasn’t the director’s initial choice but the result of the absence of one of the actors).
The colourful costumes and the overall atmosphere of the production make it feel like a circus. There are lots of humourous lines and the play contains elements of both satire and farce. While the plot is simple, there’s a richness to the comic details.
The dialogue is written in rhyming verses in the Gheg dialect (one of the two major forms of the Albanian language) and the characters also use colloquial words and expressions, giving the play an air of familiarity. Director Agon Myftari creates a connection with the audience from the beginning. There is constant interaction with the public throughout the play.
Each scene has a title, projected on a digital screen, in much the same way as a book is divided into chapters. Though the drama has an English title, it is steeped in Kosovan culture and contexts. In some scenes the actors hold gourds and play traditional instruments, evoking collective memories of our grandmothers and grandfathers and those before them. These traditional objects are a source of curiosity for a modern audience.
Neziraj uses the play to highlight the absurdity of the reality of our society. It criticizes the pitiful standard of education in our institutions and the nonsense that passes for news in our media. It also mocks and satirizes these figures from folklore, these legends of the past, dethroning these national heroes by labelling them women looters and saying there is nothing innately heroic about them.
Other than occupying a similar role in the minds of some of English people as Muji and Halili are seen in Albanian folklore – and providing a catchy title for the play – the role that King Charles III plays in the story is not very clear. His presence is touched on slightly, but feels underdeveloped and doesn’t leave much of an impression on the audience.
The performance is, however, very funny, entertaining and easy to watch, maintaining a steady tempo until the action picks up in the last scenes. It’s not a play of strong emotions but it has an authenticity in the way it presents Albanian folklore in a fresh way to the modern audience and the unique way it transmits its message.
By blending comedy and drama, the show is able to give voice to harsh criticisms about the past and the current reality of our countries (Kosovo and Albania together). The play questions everything: our traditions, our role models, our ideals, and the ugly reality we have created by giving too much weight to superficial narratives. It makes us think about the people we look up to, the people we have written songs about and the ideals we hold. Has the time come to rewrite our songs? Should every country be writing its own new songs?
Writer: Jeton Neziraj//director: Agon Myftari//Scenography: Nicola Minssen// Music: Tomor Kuçi// Costume design: Albulena Borovci and Alma Krasniqi// Lights: Yann Perregaux Dielf and Mursel Bekteshi//Project manager: Aurela Kadriu//Production assistant: Flaka Rrustemi
Actors: Dukagjin Podrimaj, Blend Sadiku, Vjosë Tasholli, Albina Krasniqi, Dardan Gashi