Some might be asking, “Who is King Boris III and why is there a show being written about him?”. I certainly was, before I saw this important piece of work written by duo Joseph Cullen and Sasha Wilson, who also appear in the show, as King Boris and a King’s Player/Ensemble, respectively.
The rest of the ensemble are introduced to us as ‘The King’s Players’, and are made of up 4 talented multi-rolling actor-musicians who create the world of 1942 wartime Bulgaria around our central character, King Boris III. Their comedic chops entice us into their world, and have us laughing from the get-go. Bringing to life the people who aided Boris during his reign, and his adversaries, the character work is truly stellar.
We are transported into this world straight away with an interesting arrangement of the Bulgarian national anthem. Vocals and instruments blend expertly, in not only this number, but the entire score, most touchingly a folk song sung by the almost exiled Jewish people of Thrace and Macedonia as they pray for their King to save their lives.
The writing is clever, witty, brilliantly acted and directed in a way to educate people about the Tsar who helped save 50,000 Jewish people during the Nazi regime. It has been expertly researched, and the writers have used letters written by Boris III himself to aid in their historical accuracy.
We learn that the Tsar plans to pretend to align himself with Hitler, all the while putting roadblocks in the Furer’s path in an attempt to save the Bulgarian Jewish people, but to do this he has to make the Nazi party truly believe they are here to help ‘the cause’.
Cullen’s performance of Boris III addressing the Bulgarian people detailing the extent of his ‘alliance’ to the Nazi party, is both terrifying and awesome to watch. Tonally, it is such a stark contrast from everything that has come before it. His perfect acting choices, aided by the score, lighting, and sound design, makes this moment memorable for all of the right reasons.
At the end, the ‘Players’ are quick to point out that the end of this piece is not historically accurate, as no one knows exactly what happened to King Boris III in the last moments of his life. They, however, have created a tense scenario, based on widely agreed upon beliefs of what happened during his conversation with Adolf Hitler.
70 minutes is not enough to tell this important story, and I would love to see what this company would create for a full two-act performance.
This production is on at the QueenDome, Pleasance Dome, until the 28th August, with the exception of the 14th.