Showcase of the Ivan Vazov National Theatre, Sofia

Sasho Ognenovski in Bulgaria
1 June 2024

Purely through its duration across 12 decades, the National Theater “Ivan Vazov” from Sofia marks a significant trajectory of theatre life in Europe. Established in 1904, this theatre represented huge dramatic truths during the period of two wars with political and social disturbance impacting Bulgaria significantly.


Deyan Donkov in Orpheus.
Photo credit: Stefan Shterev.


On its 120th anniversary, the Ivan Vazov Theater created its first showcase with an excellent selection from its repertoire. The plays included The Tempest directed by Robert Wilson, Ibsen’s Nora directed by Timofey Kulyabin, Moby Dick based on a play by Aleksandar Sekulov and directed by Diana Dobreva, Hague by Sasha Denisova directed by Galin Stoev. and Orpheus adapted by Matic Starina under the direction of Jernej Lorenci.

This selection suggests that those choosing the plays are anxious to present plays (even venerable classics) that speak to current issues.

The repertoire includes great theatre names such as Robert Wilson and Timofey Kulyabin, the prominent theatre directors of the region such as Jernji Lorenci, but also the greatest Bulgarian theatre artists such as Diana Dobreva, Aleksandar Sekulov and Galin Stoev and of course expression of urgent themes through the dramatic text of Sasha Denisova.

The selection of Ivan Vazov’s first showcase brings us completely different ways of thinking and many challenges. The artistry of these performances is at a level that not only creates strong reactions, but also opens us up to thinking about where the precise theatrical moment is when it comes to the social and political survival of our culture.

Wilson asks the question: does righteousness bring progress? His understanding of the grotesque is mirrored in the tragic reconstructions of the world order that Shakespeare describes in The Tempest. Wilson, with his intricate riffs on the same play, shows us that the ruler must be disappointed for the subject to be happy.

In this selection, director Kulyabin’s strange but innovative vision of Henrik Ibsen’s classic play proves impressive when being literally thrown into the waters of modern communication technology, framing Nora in short and sharp messages on social networks. Maintaining the tension of Ibsen’s plot until the last moment, Kulyabin shows us that modern social diseases reflect those of two centuries ago while resulting in greater pain and tragedy.

Speaking of classic models, Diana Dobreva takes us to a theatrical interpretation of Moby Dick by Herman Melville, but through the excellent original play by Aleksandar Sekulov. She has created a show that takes place through cinematic poetics, but with a breathtaking visual magnificence. This interpretation of Moby Dick, in spite of its visual swagger, carries an important message that we create eternity with our pieces of work, not with our obscure nature.

Of course, Hague by Sasha Denisova reminded us that warfare in the twenty-first century can only bring more suffering and that at this time its senselessness is greater than 80 years ago when technology was inferior to that of today. Galin Stoev with all his subtlety led us to a farcical interpretation of Denisova’s text and introduced us to an interpretation that is terrifying and focused on warnings. Finally, as a diametrically different theatrical discourse, we had Jernej Lorenci’s Orpheus. Here, Matic Starina deconstructs and recomposes again with much intensity. This acts powerfully and quite dominantly through the actors’ narrative waves. The myth of Orpheus and Eurydice speaks of a sacrificial love that, in Lorenci’s directing vision, is scattered under the onslaught of the hypocrisy of the twenty-first century like ashes into the sea.

Of course, the first showcase of the “Ivan Vazov theater” presented us with a constellation of excellent acting achievements such as Orpheus by Dejan Donkov, Prospero by Veselin Mezekliev, Ahab by Hristo Petkov, Ishmail by Vladimir Penev, Nora by Radina Krdzhalova, Krogstad by Darin Angelov.

The theatre, which has three stages and works at full steam, playing a huge number of plays every year, this year also started an interesting alliance of national theatres from the region which opened many fruitful initiatives at their first meeting. Its repertoire will impress audiences in the future with many more interesting ways of thinking following the currents of world theatrical momentum. Entitled NT – Mini, this showcase speaks to the hugeness of the theatre which in one season runs around 600 shows, ten premieres with different directorial visions and approaches, and opens its doors to 150,000 spectators.

The theatre magician Peter Brook said: “Nothing in the theater has any meaning before or after. The meaning is now.” And Ivan Vazov National Theatre is exactly that – theatre of the current moment.