Words: Robert Parker-White
Despite the amusing title, Boris III is not a historical figure that most people instantly recognise. It is Out Of The Forest’s mission to reclaim mis-remembered or forgotten stories from history to better understand our world today and this is exactly what the show sets out to do.
The play opens with a beautiful rendition of the Bulgarian national anthem. We are then introduced to King Boris and various members of his cabinet as they tally up which European power is best to ally with in World War Two. Their ambition is clear, to reclaim the territories lost under the leadership of Boris’ father, Ferdinand I.
We follow Boris as he refractorily gets into bed with Hitler in order to recover his citizens from Macedonia, Dobrudzha and Western Thrace but this is an uncomfortable alliance with himself quoting an old Bulgarian proverb “when the horses start kicking each other in the stable, the donkeys get hurt.”
Things spiral downwards fast and Boris is pressured to hand over 50,000 of his Jewish citizens to the horrors of the Final Solution. It culminates in a final showdown when Boris finally comes face to face with The Fuhrer. There are obvious parallels to the current government’s mistreatment of its own people, stripping them of their citizenship and turning their backs on marginalised groups. The piece has an inspiring message about the personal sacrifice of good people who stand up against the bad.
Joseph Cullen commands the stage as the titular King. Sasha Wilson makes a hysterical Theodor Dannecker, The Captain of the SS, angrily parroting back the narrative in a thick German accent. She is equally as funny as the cliché spouting Queen Giovanna, only as outspoken as the 1940’s will allow. Laurence Booth-Man pleases as the wildly camp Bogdan Filov, the scheming Prime Minister of Bulgaria. Although the clowning ensemble are all terrific in their respective roles, occasionally they fall out of sync in their quintet and their energies don’t always align with one another.
The Brief Life & Mysterious Death of Boris III, King of Bulgaria is a fun romp through an unknown chapter in Europe’s dark history and should be on the list of anyone with even a modicum of interest in history.
The Brief Life & Mysterious Death of Boris III, King of Bulgaria
Pleasance Dome, Queen Dome
11-13, 15-28 Aug