Home and homelessness in David Greig’s 'Europe'

Term Paper (Advanced seminar) 2004 14 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Literature


Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2 The Underlying Themes of the Play
2.1 European Identity
2.2 The Bosnian Conflict

3 The Characters’ Concepts of Home
3.1 Katia
3.2 Billy, Horse and Berlin
3.3 Sava and Fret

4 Conclusion


1 Introduction

In the introduction to David Greig’s plays, Dan Rebellato states that

One very striking thing about David’s work, something that sets him apart from the majority of his contemporaries, is the conscious and artful way in which he is trying to come to terms with the immense changes being wrought across the world by globalisation . . . The imprint of globalisation is unusually deep in David’s work.
(Rebellato xii-xiii)

It might be partly due to this fact, that Greig’s plays are as successful as they are, focussing on a development which strikes a great number of people as being the main force that will change our society fundamentally. Although it is first of all an economic development leading towards a global free market, it has repercussions on all areas of life, because of the ubiquity of economics in western societies. Besides the comforts that go along with it, it is above all the emerging uncertainties and possible dangers that worries or even frightens people.

But there is another theme that is at least equally important in Europe. Since its “most immediate source was the genocide unfolding in the former Yugoslavia” (Rebellato xvi) it is the experience of war and the repelling from the home country, depicted in the characters of Katia and Sava. Unlike Sarah Kane’s Blasted in which she “by depicting and indeed exaggerating cruelty . . . demonstrates that the reality of war is dirty, violent, opaque” (Schnierer, 107), Greig abstains from any ‘In-Yer-Face’ elements in favour of showing how people struggle with the destruction of what has been their home once.

In Europe, Greig illustrates how these developments and events influence and change the life of individual human beings and what strategies they apply to deal with it.

In this paper I will try to approach these influencing forces by looking at the concepts of home of the characters involved. Since nations consist of individuals, their respective concepts of home form the basis of a national identity. In how far they differ and what they have in common will be discussed, as well as the question what shapes people’s concepts of ‘home’ and what are their strategies to deal with the changing situation.

2 The Themes of Europe in Contemporary British Drama

2.1 European Identity

With regard to Britain’s role in the future Europe, an important issue is “ the decision to see oneself as European and think with a European instead of an exclusively British viewpoint” (Reinelt 372). In order to deal with the questions of identity formation, Reinelt thinks of the theatre as a good resource “to stimulate the imagination, to work in the subjunctibe ‘what if’ and ‘suppose what’” (Reinelt 372). She names Theatre de Complicite’s Mnemonic (1999), David Edgar’s Pentecost (1994) and Greig’s Europe (1994) as “three explicit evocations of the New Europe” (Reinelt 373). In Greig’s case it is his ability to deal with both European as well as national, i.e. Scottish, identity at the same time in one play. He focuses on the experiences of ordinary people in a small town “at the hearts of Europe” that could as well be a small town in Scotland. By showing their situation he explores the ‘New Europe’. The concepts of home are fundamental for the development of national and European identity. Therefore all three plays mentioned above “take up issues of displacement and belonging” (Reinelt 373), indicating their significance in the search for identity.

2.2 The Bosnian Conflict

Greig uses the war in the former Yugoslavia as the historical background and illustrates how war affects people’s homes. There are also other British attempts to deal with the theme of war, although “there are hardly any British plays about the war in Bosnia” (Schnierer 101) and Schnierer lists Sarah Kanes Blasted (1995) and Tim Brigg’s Englishmen Abroad (1995) as examples. Although there are reasons why one could expect plays about this war, it seems to be a difficult task to write about a current conflict. Schnierer refers to the fact that war plays are the “oldest dramatic genre of all” since the days of Aeschylus and Shakespeare and the structural similarities between drama and war “that make the latter transform so easily into the former” (Schnierer 102). However, the British tradition of the “Zeitstück” (Schnierer 103) does not “flourish in the presence of so much dramatically useful raw material: a real war” (Schnierer 103). The plays of Brigg and Greig are therefore not primarily concerned with the war in Bosnia. Schnierer’s statement about Englishmen Abroad can also be applied to Europe in that it facilitates “a look at domestic issues by contrasting them with events abroad” (Schnierer 105). Greig’s indirect approach illustrates the difficulties of dealing with current conflicts. He might have been aware of the limited functions of drama in wartime as Schnierer put it. According to Schnierer, “for war plays to be written, war must have ceased, and ceased for some time” (Schnierer 108). Greig’s way of including the current events in Bosnia without writing a war play is a proof of the authors’ “insight into reality” in acknowledging “drama’s helplessness in the face of the guns” (Schnierer 109). Instead of writing a play about the war in Bosnia, Greig restricts himself to one aspect: the destruction of people’s homes.

3 The Characters’ Concepts of Home

3.1 Katia

At the beginning of the play, Katia appears to be a mysterious person. Sitting beside her sleeping father Sava, she remains silent for quite a long time and when she ignores Fret as he addresses her, she really seems to be apathetic. Adele describes Katia as “foreign”, “sophisticated”, “not local” (14). Being obviously fascinated by this girl, she goes even further and says that “she doesn’t look like she’d be local anywhere . . . No fixed abode, a traveller” (14-15), already giving a very apt characterization as it will turn out later on.

Katia’s first lines reinforce this, especially “We expect nothing” (16), which sounds like a life motto. Fret’s interrogation contrasts her behaviour with his expectations, giving further prove of Katia’s outsider position.

It is Sava who gives the first explicit explanation of their situation: “We’ve been blown around from place to place for a long time and this is where we’ve come to rest. For now” (18). The wind image illustrates their rootlessness. They have nowhere to go, just following the wind like the leaves of a tree. They are refugees of a war that turned their home country into a place of death and decay: “Snipers on the rooftops, mortars in the suburbs” (30). At first Sava had insisted to stay, hoping for better times to come: “This is Europe. Honesty will prevail, sense will win, this war is an aberration” (30). This optimistic view has been destroyed when Katia got raped, their home has finally turned into a non-place, where living is impossible and the only way out is running away. Her terrible war experience has turned her into a homeless person, always on the run, with no hope to ever feel save again. Unlike her father, Katia does not want to rest, expressing her constant fear of being caught and sent back to the place she ran away from: “We were saver travelling. Keeping moving . . . We’re too visible ” (27-28). She also lost her belief in the goodness of human nature: “We’ll get sent back, they’ll leave us to rot in some transit camp over the border” (29).



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Title: Home and homelessness in David Greig’s 'Europe'