Tbilisi Loves You

Elchin Jafarov 

Tbilisi Loves You

(Notes about the 10th Tbilisi International Theatre Festival)

This is the title of network (Wi-Fi) for free access to internet on the central streets of Tbilisi. It is always a holiday to be in Tbilisi, where every street, each stone is filled with love. Especially if you come to this city to attend the theatre festival.

Tbilisi International Theatre Festival held this year for the tenth time and the Georgian showcase section took place within the frame of this festival. I also teared myself away from everyday routine and attended an event to take a little breath. And the first thought in my mind was that, by all means, I have to write an essay about this festival, because I didn’t want to breathe this fresh air alone. Obviously, it wasn’t real to write about all the performances showed during the festival. Frankly speaking, I didn’t have that intention.

 

On the first day there were showed 4 performances. “Chekhov’s laugh” (Globe Theatre Rustaveli 19), “Flea and Ant” (Professional State Youth Theatre named after N.Dumbadze), “Mother Courage and Her Children” (Tumanishvili Theatre Studio of Cinema Actors) and “Marat / Sad” (“Ilianu” Theatre of State University named after Ilia Chavcavadze).

 

“Kalbatono Anna Firling”

That is, “Mother Courage and Her Children” (Tumanishvili Theatre Studio of Cinema Actors). The performance staged by Georgi Sixarulidze based on B. Brecht world-famous play was one of the best shows in the festival.

Director put Brecht’s play in 55-minute show. He made a serious operation on the text, cut and add some lines, and as a result there was created an extremely actual literary plot for the present period.

 

Sixarulidze’s performance is about war. Not about particular one, but about war in general. The performance doesn’t make a strict judgment for any conflict. On the contrary, the problem is commented emotionally (sometimes even extreme emotionally). The actors get closer to the characters, as they stepped aside from the ones, even sometimes identifying themselves with their personages. Actually, I don’t know Georgian reality much, but it seems to me that Georgian “Courage” mostly is about Georgians themselves, about their wars, their history, political events. In any case, there are enough references to the reality of Georgia.

 

Live museum exhibits

The stage module for the performance (artist Teo Kukhianidze) is ingenious, very interesting, it can be transformed in very short time, and thus symbolizes a variety of different spaces through changing a small detail. From the very beginning of the performance we see on the stage a modern military museum with a colorful exposition. At the edge of the stage there are placed glass boxes with various warfare dresses hanged inside. This design is quite attractive, and functional, as well. The authors of the performance emphasize the key idea using this module. The frozen museum exhibits that we perceive as a remnant of history just a few minutes before, come to life and turn into present-day people. Perhaps, that is the main reason for the director’s appeal to the play “Mother Courage and Her Children” which idea is visualized in the mind of audience: the war is never outdated, and never becomes a history. The war can revive at any moment, repeat its action, and turn over our lives. Like Anna Firling’s family one.

 

Courage without wagon

In this performance, we couldn’t find neither a covered wagon, which is traditionally considered as scenic embodiment of the “Mother Courage and Her Children”, nor disposable flags on that wagon.

The screen hanged on the back of the stage is read as the museum video guide. The screen shows a variety episode of different wars, and the horror of the war is more openly and visually conveyed to the audience.

But! This is not the worst thing. The death of millions of people during Thirty Years’ War of 17th century, or both World Wars, are no worse than ever. The worst thing is that Anna Firling, a woman with nickname Courage, who lost her three children in the conflicts, wants that war. Because she needs a war. These words of Courage act as the leitmotiv of the play. The war has necessity.

 

Everyone knows, sees, understands the horrors of war. But, in spite of this, everyone wants a war. There are thousands of works about the horrors of the war in literature, theatre and cinema. But perhaps none of those are so terrible as Courage words “I need a war”. Sometimes it seems that Courage is Germany itself—she wants war and turns the war into a business—but she is the one who suffered the most from war.

Giorgi Hotsitashvili’s music doesn’t just serve for the idea of the performance, and even in certain moments the line of events has been built on this music. Especially, during Brechtian “song”, music reaches its apogee and turns into rebellion against the war. Songs bring the performance closer to the Brecht’s Epic theatre style and creates the estrangement effect.

 

The intellectual empathy of Ninely Chankvetadze

For successful performance of “Mother Courage and Her Children” the first problem is to find proper performer for Courage character. And there is such performer in the Tumanishvili theatre - Ninely Chankvetadze. Frankly, I saw this actress for the first time on the stage. I have never heard of her before. But I’m sure Ninely belongs to intellectual actor type. Because it is very hard to play Mother Courage without knowing about Brecht’s artistic and scientific creativity, without understanding the essence of his theatrical philosophy. The actress doesn’t try to “relive” the tragedy of Anna Firling. She through cold, self-possessed style of acting just conveys to the audience the horror of what’s happening and what will happen on the stage. The actress who stingily has been using the emotionally-expressive means, is able to turn the spectator away from a passive observer position and turn it into a participant, critic, or even judge.

 

It is interesting that for gaining that kind of result there is no need to establish a direct dialogue with the “open system”, “vicious interactivity”. The performer’s communication with the audience is based on intellectual empathy. She wants to make the spectators feel with her, not to make them weep, cry, but to involve them to judge virtually on what happens on the stage. Here the director doesn’t demand from actors on the stage to “enter the character”, weep, cry, make an “emotional explosion”, and within this    kind of director’s interpretation an actor through accepting epic theatre style acting, efficiently approaches to the events on stage, analyzes,  comply some convictions, and involves the spectator into this process.

 

Impossible to breath

In the performance of Tumanishvili Theatre, along with professional actors, there were students from the Georgian State Theatre and Cinema University named after Shota Rustaveli. Dressed in costumes, a group of young people come to the stage from time to time and disappear again. Their each appearance on the stage brings different point of views and new nuances to notions of the performance. Students symbolize either museum visitors, or both war veterans, and even witnesses. On their next appearance on the stage, we see them wearing gas-masks. So, now Germany, perhaps Georgia, and even whole world has been turned into a war zone – a zone of death. The war has left everything devastated. There is nothing to live on in the world at all. It is impossible to breath. This impossibility defines all design, tempo, and rhythm of the performance.