Woman Bomb, by the Croatian playwright Ivana Sajko, is as much about one woman’s journey towards becoming a suicide bomber as it is about the creative process involved in imagining such a journey.
Though subtitled ‘a monologue for a woman-bomb, a name-less politician, his bodyguards and mistress, God, a choir of angels, a worm, the Mona Lisa, twenty friends of mine, my mother and me,’ and previously performed as a solo piece, under the direction of Maja Milatović-Ovadia and Vanda Butković, the play is voiced by three women. This has the effect of giving shape to the playwright’s internal conversations as well as form to the woman-bomb herself (played with suitable intensity by Laura Harling).
Sajko’s play is a layered to the point of being messy, flicking back and forth between the self-interrogatory and the exploratory, merging dreams and digressions in what often comes across as a relentless stream of consciousness splurge (or, possibly, a purge). She has said that the author is always hidden somewhere in every playwright’s work so she chooses not to hide herself nor her role as the writer. Having embarked on the project Sajko emails twenty of her friends to ask how they would behave if they had only twelve minutes and thirty-six seconds to live, and weaves their responses into the text. She feeds her audience the fruits of her research. Most female suicide bombers are young; 22, we are told, is the average age. For some it’s the only way of restoring honour to their family after perceived sexual transgression, for others the reasons are murkier and less easy to grasp. A section of the play is devoted to a discussion of Dhanu, the woman who assassinated Rhajiv Ghandi, and to descriptions of the photographs taken both before and after she detonated the explosives strapped to her middle.
Sajko equates this terminal act with pregnancy; she describes the intimacy between bomber and bomb, metal against skin, and blurs the line between destruction and creation. The woman-bomb is forced on her back and has her belly pawed and fondled by the other two women, pages of script are stuffed beneath her clothes to give her stomach the false curve of pregnancy. The woman-bomb speaks through a mouthful of apple (what else?) and the final act of detonation is described in near-sexual terms, a sticky embrace, while fear and the bomber’s desire to self-betray take the form of a literal ear-worm, a squirmy nervous creature on her shoulder. Footage of the rotting body of a dog is projected on a screen in one corner of the stage. Any discussion of political motivation is, for the most part, pushed to one side; it’s the psychological that fixates Sajko, the contents of the bomber’s mind in those last fraught minutes.
The riper passages of Sajko’s play hover, at times uneasily, between abstraction and incoherence. There are puns – a‘Prada Meinhoff bra’- but also many other instances where the adverb-heavy language jars. Perhaps this is an issue of translation or perhaps the result of more intrinsic linguistic differences between Croatian and English; the writing is sometimes poetic, but sometimes blunt, jagged, cluttered (full of sentences like this: “aeroplanes fly over my desk, scanning my manuscripts, my skull, ribs, spine and limb-bones, noting my body postures, the composition of liquid in my cup and the burned misery of a war-torn scenery.”).
Butković’s set design consists of a writer’s desk and a collection of floor tiles set in sand that crack and slide (rather noisily) under the performers’ feet, until, with papers strewn everywhere and furniture upended, the room looks not unlike a bombsite.
Reviewed for Exeunt