Putin on trial, this theatrical satire moves Bulgaria

By Le Figaro with AFP


Actress Radena Valkanova plays Putin on stage in Bulgaria, a country where 30% of the population is said to be favorable to Russia. NIKOLAY DOYCHINOV / AFP

Soberly titled The Hague, the play which depicts the judgment of the master of the Kremlin by the International Criminal Court, is currently being performed at the National Theater in Sofia. A show which, according to its creators, wishes to awaken a “too pive nation”.

Vladimir Poutine will he one day be tried by the International Criminal Court (ICC)? On stage, a teenager mourning her family killed in Ukraine imagines such an outcome in the war, under the gaze of a shocked Bulgarian audience. Initially created in Poland, the play, simply titled “The Hague”, is currently being performed at the National Theater in Sofia. In this EU country, a former communist state in Eastern Europe historically linked to Russia, where the Kremlin’s theses still appeal to a large segment of the population, the bet was risky.

It is obviously successful. Full house, actors applauded, audience moved to tears. “The spectators are shaken and ask questions”, greets Galin Stoev, director of the Bulgarian version. Shocked by “an unjustifiable attack” against Ukraine, he explains to AFP that he wanted “intervene at your level” to open the eyes of the Bulgarians, whose “30% are pro-Putin according to studies.” When he discovered the text by Ukrainian author Sacha Denissova, Galin Stoev – a Franco-Bulgarian who is also director of the National Drama Center of Toulouse – did not hesitate.

The argument? A young girl, whose loved ones were cut down by Russian bombs in the hell of Mariupol, delivers “with children’s eyes his interpretation of the terrible reality of war” and his dream, that of seeing delivered to justice “Putin and his clique”. The Russian president is portrayed by a woman. Black suit, tie and red shoes, she transforms at the end into a cruel fairy tale, dressed in a transparent petticoat and speaking in the style of the “Sun King” Louis XIV: “Russia is me, I am Russia.” As for Adolf Hitler mocked by Chaplin, “we must laugh at Putin mercilessly”because satire weakens it, believes Sacha Denissova.

The piece combines “known lines from real personalities”, in a very documented style, and a “invented future”. “If we can’t see the Hague trial in reality, let’s watch it in the theater”she says about her show written even before Vladimir Putin was targeted, in March, by an international arrest warrant from the ICC for “deportation” of Ukrainian children to Russia. Sacha Denissova first created it in Poznan, Poland, where she had fled, before being invited to the United States. Each time, there are different adaptations and troupes depending on the country.

Real-time adjustment

Main challenge, constantly adapting the piece according to the twists and turns of current events. Yulian Vergov, who plays Evgeni Prigozhinrecounts his panic at the need to revise his entire text after the abortive mutiny of the boss of the Wagner group, then his death in the in-flight explosion of his plane at the end of August. “We added new lines, and then more new ones” almost in real time, leaving doubt about his fate, he said. “It’s the first time I was faced with this experience: playing a real character who dies during rehearsals. It’s impressive”.

The troop also follows the latest rumors about the state of health of the Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, a faithful ally of Putin, or even of the Russian president himself. Rare criticisms have emerged on the “partiality” of this political theater, described by one of its detractors as “propaganda vaudeville”. An actor declined a role for ideological reasons, in a cultural environment generally reluctant to interfere in public debate.

“We invite the viewer to reflect on real events, to draw their own conclusionsreplies the director of the room Vil Vilev. Politicization is just the opposite: when we are told what to think.”

Actress Radena Valkanova – Putin on stage – is delighted with the positive reception. “The piece is there to awaken mentalities in a nation that is too pive” who is not aware of the horrors of war, she judges. After a stopover in Toulouse, Galin Stoev outlines a wish: to present The Hague in the countryside of his native Bulgaria, deprived of access to culture and sensitive to pro-Russian arguments.

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