BWW Review: THE BRIEF LIFE AND MYSTERIOUS DEATH OF BORIS III, KING OF BULGARIA: PART THE FIRST, VAULT Festival
Out Of The Forest Theatre return to VAULT Festival to deliver a glorious history lesson in their customary unconventional style. They introduce their London public to Boris III of Bulgaria, who rose to power after his country's defeat in World War I.
A spoonful of satire, a dash of revisionism, and a whole lot of black humour turn The Brief Life and Mysterious Death of Boris III, King of Bulgaria: Part The First into a galvanising, engrossing, and thoroughly exciting lecture.
Written by Joseph Cullen - who stands as Boris III - and Sasha Wilson - also in the cast - the play honours its inspiration but cut no corners in showing the hypocrisy and political intrigue that resulted in saving thousands of Jews from Hitler's horrific measures. The show's success is rooted in its stagecraft. The company address their audience and pitch in with asides and live commentary on the events that are unfolding, pointing out when the action is historically accurate and when certain liberties have been taken.
From his Machiavellian plans to get his lands back after the war to the meeting with the Führer that essentially signed his death warrant, the ensemble is gracious but unforgiving in their portrait. Solidly comical choices interject poignant reflections on the importance of the correct depiction of the historical accounts. "History isn't fair" they muse as they wrap up their retelling, having previously questioned Boris III on his values and role in the Holocaust.
"I did what I could" he says, immediately objected by a soft "Did you?" from the others. His ambivalence and instinctive selfishness is highlighted by the comedy in the performance, as is his ultimate struggle to free himself from the strings that Germany wanted to attach to him. The cat-and-mouse game he started with the Nazi is transported to the stage with clockwork dynamism.
They marry socio-political commentary with visual storytelling and the cast of four (not including Cullen as the Tsar) keep the pace going with an array of characters and plot twists. The international climate of the time resonates throughout the show and the company brilliantly proves that politics are theatre, and theatre is politics.
Clear in their intent even in this first debut of the work, they manage to be engaging while dusting off the less explored pages of European history. Boris III is as fascinating as its title is. Out Of The Forest do it again and present another exceptionally relevant production.