Have you heard the story of King Boris III of Bulgaria? In Out Of The Forest Theatre’s words, during the 1940s Bulgaria told Hitler to f*ck off, saved nearly 50,000 Jewish lives… and lost a King. With a tagline like that, we can’t help but be intrigued by the company’s effort to bring to light Boris’ life and the spirit of Bulgaria through storytelling and live folk music. We sat down for a pixelated pint with the team to get to know more about this exciting historical adaptation.
Catch The Brief Life & Mysterious Death of Boris III, King of Bulgaria at Pleasance Dome – QueenDome at 17:30 between August 2nd and 28th (not the 14th). Tickets are available through the EdFringe Box Office.
Jake: Hi team! You’re bringing the little-told life and demise of King Boris 3rdto a Fringe stage, the rescue of 50,000 Jewish people from deportation and death, and how it was all forgotten about in world history. Tell us a little about what inspired you to bring the story to the stage.
OOTFT: Hello! Our Artistic Director (and Co-writer) Sasha Wilson is American-Bulgarian, and our previous three shows have been inspired by stories from Massachusetts (including Off West End Award-Winning ‘Bury The Hatchet’ about alleged axe-murderess Lizzie Borden) – so we felt it was time to bring in something of her Eastern European roots.
We were gifted a copy of ‘Crown of Thorns’ – a biography of Boris III – by Sasha’s Opapa (grandad) in 2017. We didn’t know this story. Nobody we spoke to knew this story. We had never planned to do a WW2 play (it’s been SO DONE right?), but this story just wouldn’t leave us. So for everyone whose only Bulgarian reference point is a womble- this one’s for you!
Jake: The ensemble involved perform live Bulgarian and Jewish folk tunes within the piece – tell us how they are intertwined with the story and what the audience can expect.
OOTFT: As we have developed the show over the last few years, we have had the incredible opportunity to work with Dessi Stefanova of The London Bulgarian Choir (and Bulgarian Woman of The Year 2017 don’t you know!) who has given us expert tutorial on Bulgarian choral singing and pronunciation – the (current) national anthem Mila Rodino plays a prominent role in setting the scene, and indeed the tone for the piece, as does Kaval Sviri.
We have been working with brilliant Director & Dramaturg Hannah Hauer-King; who introduced us to Avinu Malkeinu, a beautiful and haunting Jewish song which has now woven its way into the play.
There’s a lot of politics (unavoidable I’m afraid), so we also have a few upbeat numbers of English and German origin, and 4 incredibly talented actor-musicians to perform them – so you’re in for a treat amongst the treaties.
Jake: The piece combines historical theatre and folk music with a revisionist twist – tell us a little about what you’re hoping the audience walk away thinking.
OOTFT: We only have 70 minutes! So there’s a lot we had to miss out. We are theatremakers, and so we retain a dramatic license for use on these occasions. But if we should inspire any fellow history nerds to read further – Michael Bar-Zohar’s ‘Beyond Hitler’s Grasp’ is our recommended read. Our Exec Producer Joseph Cullen had the privilege of being invited to The European Parliament in Brussels earlier this year for a conference on the topic of the 80th anniversary of these events, and met Dr Bar-Zohar, who was a child in 1940s Sofia. He had been sharing this story for year and was repeatedly told ‘you have to tell more people’, so he wrote a book and did just that. And then we read it, and we wanted to do the same thing – but on stage. We are the stories we tell ourselves; and this is a doozy.
We hope to spark curiosity – and encourage anyone and everyone to visit Bulgaria (The Black Sea is lovely this time of year).
Jake: Tell us about your relationship with Edinburgh and the Fringe – have you been before and how are you feeling about it all now we are a month away?
OOTFT: For Out Of The Forest Theatre, this is our debut Fringe! Members of the company have performed before and so we’ve a bit of experience between us which takes a little (only a little) of the edge off. Fringe Theatre is where we were given the opportunity to make with no money – which is a godsend for young working class creatives – and VAULT Festival in London will forever have our thanks.
This is a big step up for us; and we are so excited to be with The Pleasance Theatre, who have already made us feel so welcome. We are definitely more excited than nervous, but we can’t rest on any laurels, there’s a lot of work and silly videos to put out before August starts!
Jake: Given the themes of Binge Fringe, if your show was a beverage of any kind (alcoholic, non-alcoholic – be as creative as you like!), what would it be and why?
OOTFT: I mean it has to be a shot of Rakia right? And by shot – we do of course mean bottle. To call it ‘fruit brandy’ is a very generous way of saying ‘lighter fluid’… And like history and politics and the recounting of them – it’s not always palatable, but in the right company it’s definitely an experience, and you’ll have a story to pass on afterwards.