ReviewYouth theatre

“Youth without God”, Euroregional Theatre Festival in Timisoara – TESZT

Jeremy Malies in Romania
24 May 2024

Live video of actors with social media face-altering filters! Even Ivo van Hove, the shaman of video in theatre, hasn’t thought of that. The play alerts us to how young people can be marginalized towards the far right; it shows us the dangers of extreme nationalism and how scepticism of Islam can soon turn to hatred. This Croatian company have created the best piece of youth theatre I have seen in a decade.



Zagreb Youth Theatre use Ödön von Horváth’s 1937 novel Youth without God as a broad platform for their production. Von Horváth (a native of what is now Croatia) showed how life is debased by fascism. Under the direction of Borut Šeparović , we see the actors showing excessive use of video games by young people. A central argument is that the violence in so many “shoot ’em up” games sways morally decent teenagers towards predatory behaviour in their own lives including racism, Islamophobia and social Darwinism.

The text (Šeparović has worked jointly with Ivana Vuković) is on weaker ground when it expands to deal with Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold (we see their photos) attacking schoolmates at Columbine. I should have preferred the piece to stick with Anders Behring Breivik whose ludicrous declarations of European independence (essentially an anti-Muslim screed) are given powerful delivery by Lucija Dujmović. There could also have been longer discussion of the 2007 Jokela High School Massacre by 18-year-old Pekka-Eric Auvinen who is mentioned fleetingly. But these are minor points.

The acting by this wonderful youth company put me in mind of Cock by Mike Barlett as a beta male is humiliated and even subjected to the kind of treatment that war criminal Lynndie England inflicted on detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad. The England figure is played by Nikolina Prkačin who later sings into a phallic mic while convincing us that she has degenerated from bully to full-on psychopath. Prkačin acquires detail unobtrusively during this spiralling journey.

The actors show admirable technique as they develop individualized ways for their characters to sneer at a left-leaning humanities teacher played by Rakan Rushaidat. They prove inventive when conveying how bright misguided youths can misuse and warp social media.

Music choices are dead-on with use of the soundtrack from Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers. There is apposite use – it takes us nearer to von Horváth – of Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia in video design by MONTAЖSTROJ & Mitropa. Similarly, the text reminds us that far-right activists often (spuriously) reference the Knights Templar as precursors of their ideology. “We are all perfect knights” has several meanings. (Costume designer Marta Žeguraand dresses Dujmović in t-shirts showing the knights’ distinctive cross symbol.) It is a tonic to see how Youth Without God skewers this fake history.

The text’s reflective position that Europe may be on the cusp of civil war is salutary in terms of the way indisputable facts are marshalled. “I’m afraid that nationalism is the only political system that corresponds to the soul of our people” is of course put into the mouth of  an aberrant extremist who sees himself as literally a separate species to the mainstream. As with so much of the play, it is a wake-up call to all of us within the Overton Window. The text is given as surtitles in three languages and the English translation included the phrase “rivers of blood”. I wonder if the significance of this has registered.

I sat up bolt upright when a character describes Europe as “the dumping ground for the excess births of the Third World with an invasion coming across the Black Sea”. The performance coincided almost to the hour with announcement of an election in the UK when immigration and far-right parties such as Patriotic Alternative will be in the headlines. Patriotic Alternative are known to have used social media and gaming tournaments (gaming is predominant here) to recruit supporters as young as 12. This play gains momentum and relevance by the day. It is an outstanding example of youth theatre and grant-issuing bodies should assess it as a candidate for transfer to Brighton, Edinburgh or Adelaide.