- Sara Dirnbek
- Matej Puc
- On the recording: Hamza Aziz, Zaher Amini, Khalid Ali, Behnaz Aliesfahanipour
- Research assistant: Maja Ava Žiberna
- Assistants director: Ana Lorger, Nika Prusnik Kardum
- Dramaturgical collaborator: Katarina Morano
- Set design: Igor Vasiljev
- Costume design: Tina Pavlović
- Music; sound and video design: Blaž Gracar
- Speech advisor: Mateja Dermelj
- Translation of the recording: Barbara Skubic
- Lighting design and stage manager: Igor Remeta
- Production and stage manager: Tina Dobnik
People who have walked across half of the world to escape wars, persecution, violence and crushing poverty, call the last stretch of their route, the stretch that takes them from Bosnia and Herzegovina to a safe destination in the European Union, the game.
The game has no rules, laws don’t apply, the power of the police is limitless, the violence increasingly brutal, the dangers increasingly more dangerous, the possibilities smaller and smaller, and the destination further and further … Many try several times, even twenty or thirty times; it’s a numbers game.
For many, the game is fatal. Available records show that around twenty people have thus far lost their lives on our borders.
The Game, a devised theatre project, will study the role and responsibility of Slovenia and its border policy for lives and fates of the people on the run.
Premiering in 2020, Žiga Divjak’s Gejm is based on testimony from the Border Violence Monitoring Network database, an organisation which documents the abuses faced by migrants crossing Europe. The show breaks things down case by case, using the statements of the refugees about the their treatment at the hands of the Slovenian and Croatian police, to paint an unbearable picture of a system that treats them as less than human. [...] The repetition soon comes to feel relentless, the same phrases recurring like a chorus. We soon see this to be a concerted campaign to purge Slovenia. Over and over we hear the same words: they beat us, they smashed our phones, they took our money, and while they were doing this, they laughed. (The laughter is somehow even more upsetting than the violence). [...] I’ve seen this piece before on video – it was live-streamed by Mladinsko during the pandemic – but the intimacy of the long narrow subterranean room adds considerably to the intensity. [...] Watching this piece now, in the light of the war in Ukraine and the level of welcome that has been extended to the millions of refugees by western Europe generates a queasy feeling at the double standards and the coded – and overt – racism. [...] By the end of the feeling of sickness and fury is almost unbearable, at the plight of people reduced to playthings in a brutal, cruel game which we have enabled through indifference – and through silence.
The text is composed of true confessions, making it a chilling two-hour image of Europe that makes you understand that Auschwitz, the lorries turned gas chambers, Jasenovac or Sajmište had not fallen from the sky, or returned there after the war. Considering the brutal handling of migrants by certain police officers with Europe's silent blessing, it is clear that all the atrocities we thought were historical excesses buried by the victory over Nazism are lying dormant everywhere around us, very close by. […] As I said earlier, The Game contains minimal staging procedures, which turned out to be a good decision by Žiga Divjak. So much crude reality makes up for content that require no special effects.
Although they are generally connected, each of these stories contains something personal, different, worldly and tragic. The endless narration is thus never monotonous, not even for a moment. Quite the contrary, as the narratives go on, the audience gets increasingly upset, which is also largely contributed to by the inhumane attitude of the people in power towards these innocent persons conjured up by means of a minimalist dramatic approach.
The spectators are crushed emotionally by the stoic narration of true stories followed by disposing of quasi-artefacts of violence – a lost shoe over there, a broken phone on the other side, a burnt piece of clothing here. Using minimal stage approaches, the director varies the narration of stories that are similar to each other: here, an actor tells somebody else's story as if it was his own, unexpectedly and empathetically; there, verbal abuse by police is demonstrated by yelling, and also physically by tramping over a mobile phone or hitting a chair to show a police officer bashing a person until the club they are using breaks in their hands.
The Game expects neither empathy nor moral decisions from us, but instead consistent respect for the laws which determine civilisational norms. The superb ensemble of actors, together with their artistic and technical collaborators, created powerful theatre, which defends humanity and the fundamental principles of the European civilisation and culture. The production is a stirring witness to the great tragedy of migrants, handed over to merciless procedures of the state organs and European citizens. This is a performance that speaks not only of Slovenia, but also of Europe and the world, and reminds us, with alarm, that the red line has been crossed.
Not long ago, investigative journalists published footage of violence of the Croatian police against migrants and refugees. The pressing migrant theme is also in the core of the Slovenian production The Game by Žiga Divjak, which opened this year’s Zoom Festival in Rijeka. […] Žiga Divjak uses a theatrical approach and creates a unique documentary performance. […] Unlike many who keep silent, The Game decided to face the problem and question the role and responsibility of Slovenia and its border policies for the lives and fates of people on the run. The production also touches Croatia, which doesn’t treat migrants any better. The Game is a fine example of engaged theatre.
The demanding nature of the production reflects in the faces of actors who narrate personal stories of the game participants in the first person. […] The actors are vital in making the narrated stories really come to life before our eyes in all their cruelty and terror. […] The Game is a performance that outlines facts. By avoiding unbridled sentimentality and moralising, it stirs up emotions in the viewer and provokes a desire for action, a desire for change. The question is, will that be enough? Will those responsible for the crimes committed against refugees in Slovenia attend the performance? Or anyone responsible for the deaths of refugees in the Kolpa river? Will it spark off a public debate about these issues? […] Still, that a performance that hopes to change something was put on stage is quite extraordinary. Only time will tell how successful it will be.
The stories in chronological order are related in how they describe the painful hopelessness of the situation in which the protagonists are caught, similar in their memories of police brutality and 'unheard' intentions to apply for asylum, but each with a personal twist that allows the audience to relate to these fates. One after the other, the narratives gradually pile one on the top of the other, just as […] objects that in one way or another illustrate individual episodes gradually pile onstage […], a reminder of destinies that become increasingly horrifying […] and shattering. At least a part of this effect certainly comes from the careful 'meagerness' of the performing tools; congruent to the content, the events of stage are essentially reduced to 'a person who speaks' (which is often the only thing many migrants have left), and at the same time the topic is theatrically reflected in the gradated repetition of 'same', which perhaps exhausts the spectator in a similar way that the vicious circle in which they are caught exhausts the migrants. This is not a production that aims to please – in fact, it is through this 'rigidity' that the recognition of the 'systems' complete negligence of legal and ethical principles begins to unveil – the negligence ramifying at our very door.
[The performance] achieves an incredible effect with minimal theatrical, mostly narrative, means. It is a supreme example of documentary theatre both in terms of the structure and selection of the narrative material (Katarina Morano's excellent dramaturgical concept) and the suggestive, acting confessions of almost all the protagonists. They lay bare the impotence of the democratic institutions of a country in a convincing, engaged way. […] We follow close to 20 individual, first-person stories of migrants, all terribly similar in their tragic, unrelenting, and inhuman persistence, which only stresses their horrific credibility. The objective account of an event is followed by a personal story, leaving personal props on a map on the floor, which serves as a game board for wet clothes, phones, shoes. This part is the most expressive. […] The repetition of the narrative structure further intensifies the desperate, Sisyphean horror of migrant destinies. The stories carry so much power that everything else is secondary.
After watching yesterday’s performance, the word game now has horrifying and tragic connotations. It seems that human life is no more than just a figure on a game board. Yet it is still full of hope, because that figure is fuelled by endless defiance and a life force that lasts until life ends. […] The game gives voice to more than twenty narratives of people who struggle again, and again, and again. They don’t give in. Testimonies of torture and abuse are horrific. They resemble one another. The director wonders whether all these deeds, which are contrary to the system, reveal that in fact they are organised, planned, and systematised. The performance is produced as an ascetic documentary throughout. Its message couldn’t be conveyed in any other way.
The text generates a lot of power. Stories of police violence carry a lot of weight on their own, both emotionally and cognitively, and by using them, the performance gives voice to individuals who are often ignored. At the same time, the perfectly calculated organisation and choice of text are central to the play. […] It is the consistent structure of narrative and the varied setting that pose the question whether such police violence is systematised, whether there is a consensus at state level due to the proceedings, and on whose orders police units act across different parts of the country in a similar way. By arranging the text specifically, The Game implicitly conveys a view of the events and places it in a broader social context. While politics demand tighter border controls, [this] important performance highlights the current state of events that lead to a total collapse of the fundamental principles of legal and ethical acts.
- Polis Teatro Festival, Ravenna, Italy, 7 May 2023
- Palm Off Fest, Prague, Czech Republic, 22 October 2022
- Bitef teatar, Belgrade, Serbia, 30 January 2022
- Sarajevo Fest, Sarajevo, Bosnia and Hercegovina, 2 December 2021
- Week of Slovenian Drama, Kranj, Slovenia, 7 November 2021
- Festival Zoom, Rijeka, Croatia, 17 October 2021
- Festival Perforacije, Zagreb, Croatia, 3 July 2021
- Maribor Theatre Festival, Maribor, Slovenia, 24 June 2021
- Trigger, Ljubljana, Slovenia, 31 August 2020
- Duša Počkaj Award bestowed by ZDUS (SADA) to Vito Weis for his creations in the last two years, among them also for the project The Game
- Special award of the jury for social sensitivity at the Week of Slovenian Drama festival (2021)
- Borštnik Grand Prix for the Best Production (2021)
- Borštnik award for directing to Žiga Divjak (2021)
- Borštnik award for dramaturgy to Katarina Morano (2021)
- Borštnik award for set design to Igor Vasiljev (2021)
- Borštnik award for music and sound design to Blaž Gracar, also for Seven Days by the Ljubljana City Theatre (2021)
- Borštnik awards for acting to Matej Puc, also for his role in Seven Days by the Ljubljana City Theatre (2021)
- Borštnik award for young actress to Sara Dirnbek (2021)
- Župančič award 2021, bestowed by the City of Ljubljana to Žiga Divjak for the projects realised in the last two years, among them for The Game
Special thanks to Behnaz Aliesfahanipour, Hamza Aziz, Khalid Ali, Zaher Amini, Desmond, Reza, the Ahmmad family, Miha Turk, Anela Dedić, Nidžara Ahmetašević, Miha Blažič, Barbara Vodopivec, Uroš Škerl Kramberger, Kristina Božič, Aljaž Vrabec, Urša Regvar, Andraž Rožman, Dino Bauk, Faila Pašić Bišić, Milena Zajović Milka, François (MSF), Simon Campbell, Matej Povše, Dubravka Vranjac, Marko Pogačar, Tina Zorman, Ivan Šelih, Bruno Álvarez, Jernej Potočnik, Aco Todorović, Ivan Šikora, Info Kolpa, Are You Syrious, No Name Kitchen, Border Violence Monitoring Network, Legal-Informational Centre for NGOs, Human Rights Ombudsman of the Republic of Slovenia, Jože Goričar Central Social Sciences Library, ADRA Slovenia, and most of all to the residents of the Vič Asylum Centre, who shared their stories with us, and people in transit we met in Velika Kladuša and Bihać.