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The Brief Life and Mysterious Death of Boris III, King of Bulgaria | Arcola Theatre

Out of The Forest Theatre walk the fine line between entertainment and education so finely that it almost disappears. In this case, that is a positive thing as it's a constant phenomenon throughout the show. It wouldn't have gone very well should they have struck that balance incorrectly.

As the title suggests, this is the true (but widely unknown) story of the penultimate King of Bulgaria - Boris the 3rd. I feel neither the title or poster do justice to how funny and engaging the show is. This is to say that they are long and a bit too serious to demonstrate the experience you actually get when watching it - which was raucous and fresh, instead of just a history lecture. From the very beginning, it is clear there will be no fourth wall as the actors and audience inhabit a lot of the same space, although it is not advertised as an immersive piece. I loved this choice as it, along with the thrust configuration, acted as an invitation for us to engage with the show, rather than the demand placed upon us by typical end on productions.

Speaking of the auditorium, director Hannah Hauer-King utilised this unique space very well, and made the cast's entrances and exits feel like a part of the blocking, rather than something that just happens along the way. This sensation can be partially accredited to the script (Sasha Wilson) as its fast pace and stream of both information and plot mean these scenes flow seamlessly together.

The effective yet minimal set (Sorcha Corcoran) and appropriate but relatively unchanging costumes (Helen Stewart) helped to focus our attention as there was so much going on physically and I feel that these elements would be distracting if they were any more complex. Only short deviations from the main lighting state (Will Alder) did the same job, and these were used to highlight moments of humour that were even more funny, as they were over before you realised they had happened.

Now this was, in fact, a musical - although not in the typical sense. Yes, there was song and dance (with consultation from Dessi Stefanova), however in a totally different style to which we tend to see on London stages. I did enjoy this new genre of music, and have a particular soft spot for anything done in a different language, however I will note that they weren't as witty in lyric as the book is, and this was evident in the performance. It felt that the cast had more to work with when speaking, because the songs just weren't as cleverly composed.

In a show with multi-rolling at its core, connection between the ensemble is vital and Lauren Boothman, Clare Frankel and David Leopold absolutely nailed it. It's clear that they all know the show inside and out as it was well self-sustained, with the cast acting as their own props and wardrobe departments for the best part of the 80 minutes. Of course, I'm sure stage manager, Maddie Whiffin was working hard behind those wings to make it all work for them, as it seemed every cog in this machine fit just right.

As much as it was definitely a team effort, I would like to highlight Joseph Cullen for his performance as Boris because it was so visceral. A really strong, well rounded effort to lead the company.

If you are a fan of Operation Mincemeat (like myself) this one is definitely for you. There's still time to book your tickets, but get in there soon as the run must end on 21st October 2023. For more information and tickets, you can follow the link here.


{AD | Gifted} Write by Katie McConnell | Photography by Héctor Manchego


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