The Slovenia Times

Great epic brought to the stage in new adaptation

The cast of Under the Free Sun take in the audience's applause at the Ljubljana opening. Photo: Katja Kodba/STA
Under the Free Sun, an epic early 20th century novel that is part of the Slovenian literary cannon, has been adapted for the stage by award-winning novelist Goran Vojnović two years after coming out in a classic-strip format based on his interpretation.

A patriotism inspiring work that draws on Slovenian mythology, Pod Svobodnim Soncem was penned by Fran Saleški Finžgar (1871-1962) at the start of the 20th century when Slovenia was still part of the Habsburg Empire.

Set in the 6th century, the work portrays the conflict between South Slavic tribes and the Byzantine Empire. Part of the school syllabus in Slovenia, it depicts the Slavs as pagans living in free, democratically organised communities and in harmony with nature.

The partly romance-driven story has seen a number of adaptations in various formats. While not yet making it onto the big screen, it is said to have attracted the interest of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios once but the novel's author wanted the main characters to be played by actors of Slavic origin so the project fell through.

The Ljubljana premiere of Under the Free Sun. Photo: Katja Kodba/STA
Directed by Macedonian director Aleksandar Popovski, Vojnović's theatre adaptation premiered in Ljubljana on 18 December after opening in Nova Gorica at the end of November and a day before being staged in Maribor.

Vojnović, who is also a film director, says his is a contemporary interpretation that takes into account the historical and political realities of the years that have followed the novel's publication.

His take was marked by the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, by "a moment when we in Europe felt really threatened for the first time in a long time", making him depart from the original to a certain degree.

"A theatre play should be a work in its own right, and I would prefer to see that even those viewers who have already read the novel in the past read it again. I am convinced that Finžgar's novel reads very differently today," Vojnović told reporters.

Popovski, who also designed the set, said his focal interest had been the question of whether "to tear down or not to tear down". He decided against having the play end with an attack on Constantinople and some kind of victory, as is the case in Finžgar's novel.

The play was co-produced by the national theatre companies SNG Nova Gorica and Drama SNG Maribor, Cankarjev Dom arts centre and Škrateljc, a cultural non-profit that published the comic book version of the novel by Vojnović and graphic artist Damijan Stepančič.

Featuring elaborate costumes and a large cast, the production intertwines on set action with animations and video.

According to Cankarjev Dom, the production seeks to answer many questions, including who the barbarians are today and how things stand in terms of freedom.


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