On February 10th, we will perform the production “An Ideal Husband” for the 150th time. A nice jubilee and an occasion to tell you more about the production. About the 12 years we have performed it. There were many bright events around it. I gathered self-confidence from the full halls. But, let me begin.
Oscar Wilde is studied at NATFA for the words and the speed. There is much talk in the Academy about how this author should be performed. For students who have not yet mastered their means of expression, Wilde is very difficult. One of the requirements is the so-called “fencing with words”. You have to pronounce this complex text so skilfully and quickly that the viewer will have the impression that you are duelling with words. There are many exercises with parts of plays, but they are rather unsuccessful attempts. As a student, you consider Oscar Wilde a very high benchmark and you feel that you have to gain a lot of experience to “get” to it. You ask yourself, “What will I do if I graduate and I am immediately assigned to an Oscar Wilde play?”. My answer to this question was: “I will struggle and fight, but I will do it”.
We teleport five years after I asked myself this question, and I am already part of the company of the National Theatre. I have done many things for these five years as a professional actor. There is a rumour going on in the theatre that a French director walks around secretly and watches performances to select actors for an Oscar Wilde play. Being such a person, I provoke myself by my own fears and I throw myself at them head forward. I did not know if he would select me, but I wanted it. Not long after, I was casted for the lead role in “An Ideal Husband” – one of Oscar Wilde’s best plays. Straight to the deep waters of the stage words. Rehearsals with director Thierry Harcourt were terribly interesting and relaxed. He, as a person who grew up outside Bulgaria, paid attention to many interesting things. I remember that he wanted us to walk upright. He shared his observation that in Bulgaria most people walk stooped. He asked us why we did not learn this at school. The stooped man seems lacking self-confidence, diffident and unimposing. Englishmen are proud, upright, and with a nice posture. He kept making remarks about me standing upright. He solve the problem in total. He put corsets with metal plates on all actors to keep us upright. I admit that in the third year I removed it because I could not breathe. But the other actors wear them to this day. Thierry knew a lot about high society. He knew about the manners, the etiquette, the behaviour. He has spent much of his life in London. He explained very well to us how to stand, how to behave. For a long time I could feel the boy from Iliyantsi not allowing Lord Goring to appear. For the neighbourhood boy the manners of the high London society were strange and distant. Somehow, it did not work out. The shopp in me was overwhelming. But Thierry was a vivid example. He has a posture of a lord, he performed very well. I decided just to imitate him. And, as the rehearsals progressed, the lord began to break through the shell of the Sofia boy. The costumes helped a lot. The corset – too. And after the make-up and haircut, I could safely say that even I saw another man who might have grown up in Iliyantsi, but his life had passed in some rich castle around Regent Street.
Words were a struggle. The first difficulty was to learn this huge and complex text. The refinement and mastery I sought were the text to be delivered at a rapid pace with crystal-clear logics. Only then Oscar Wilde’s famous brilliant humour would come out. You should not psychologize, make internal pauses, cut off the winged phrase. The text has many virtuoso phrases and sentences, full of humour and great life wisdom. They have to be said as something normal, without a focus on them, only then they come out and the audience gets them. If you speak slowly, with pauses, the meaning is lost, the text becomes heavy and the audience stops listening. The key is the ease, the tempo and the sense of humour. Easily said, but very difficult to implement. I remember standing for hours at home, after rehearsals, and repeating the text. I would take a paragraph and repeat it 20 times, then another. I trained my mouth and thought. Mouth – in skilfulness, thought – in speed. Only then I would be at ease – when I do not think about the text, and these 120 pages become a few sentences in my mind. It was interesting, it was a challenge. I had to reach the top of this dramaturgy. One of the very good things is that the cast involved great colleagues and friends. Thus, things became also personal. All of them gave the most of themselves. Maria Kavardzhikova, Julian Vergov, Stoyan Aleksiev, Marta Kondova, Bilyana Petrinska, Milena Atanassova… The premiere became a great event for us. I remember something else too. After the premiere, I met Krikor Azaryan. He asked me how it went. I told him, he thought for a bit, and said, “You will have a lot of audience and you will perform it for many years because Bulgarians adore Oscar Wilde, he gives them something they lack, gives them upbringing and class”. Time proved just how right and what a theatre connoisseur he was!
In the last days of the rehearsals of “An Ideal Husband”, I was invited to a casting for a host of Survivor. I thought it was a candid camera. It turned out it was not. The casting was very big with an appointed date. The date was exactly the day of the premiere. There was no other way. The time I was supposed to be there was right after we perform the production for the first time. This tensed me terribly, but I was a huge fan of this reality show, and such a chance was once in a lifetime. I could not miss it. The premiere was over, it was really spectacular with a full hall, applauses, happy audience. I felt I had achieved the thing I was afraid of as a student. I was already an actor who could have achievements. I proved to myself many things. At such a moment you are happy and fall into euphoria. Adrenaline had taken over me. I went into the dressing room and the phone rang. The assistant from the television told me to hurry because the whole casting committee was waiting for me. I did not have time to change and bathe. In the Lord Goring’s clothes, make-up and hairstyle, I went to the casting of Survivor Bulgaria. When Evtim Miloshev and company saw me like this, they were slightly shocked. They sensed I was overly excited, I told them about the success of the premiere. I do not know if I need to say that at that moment I was able to move the Vitosha mountain, I had the self-confidence, I did not worry and I was confident inside. The casting started and I did things that I am not sure I could do in another state. I blew their minds. I believe you know how things have developed afterwards. I watched the greatest reality show in the world – Survivor, from the first row. I travelled to places I had never been, I gained huge experience, and met valuable people. And all because of the production which jubilee we will celebrate. Perhaps nothing is accidental. To this day, Evtim Miloshev tells stories about our first meeting.
One of my greatest curiosities in the theatre is also associated with this production. In the scene with Maria Kavardzhikova, while performing, her whole dress fell down and she remained in her underwear. A very embarrassing situation. She squatted immediately and picked it up. I do not know how she fixed it and we moved on, but after 10 seconds the dress fell down again. Then I went to button it and I saw that all the buttons were broken. I felt sick. It would take a long time. I whispered to Maria about the problem while I was trying to resolve it. The audience felt that something extraordinary was happening. They started to enjoy it. I was worried because I was quite slow. I somehow twisted, poked and fastened it. We started with the text again. And the dress fell down, again. The audience exploded. Again, I started to create. I told Maria, secretly to her ear, that I would be slow, but I would do it well. Maria invited the audience to clap and under the applauses of 870 people, I began to tie the dress to the corset with the corset ties. I did it. The audience exploded from the fact that I succeeded. Maria and I, we kissed under a sea of applauses and moved on. This audience saw something that was just for them, which shows that theatre is one of the most valuable arts. It is only for the people who are in the hall – here and now, something exceptional, unique and exclusive.
Many actors were replaced in the production. My partner, Marta Kondova, who played Mabel Chiltern, decided to take a different path and left the theatre. This was very unpleasant for me. Often people think this is a role, and I could perform it with anyone. It is not like that. Partnership is very important. Especially for productions like this one, where we have to take care of the production, because the director is not there to make remarks about it. Then much depends on the conscious presence of each of us. Marta and I, we felt each other, and we had made our time on the stage cosy. But she left. We did a casting for an actress. Many girls appeared, but we chose Luisa Grigorova. She had just graduated from NATFA. Together with Stoyan Aleksiev we began to rehearse with her. She looked like a fragile, expensive jewel. That is exactly what we needed. Luisa grew up in front of my eyes. At first, the great hall took over her. I told her she had to fight with it. To be heard, to be noticed. Luisa advanced quickly and made a wonderful Mabel. Now I feel good with her too. I am glad she developed so much as an actress, and that this production was a useful step in her development. Then Stefania Koleva came in as Lady Chiltern, because Bilyana Petrinska gave birth to a baby. Elena Atanassova left, replaced by Joreta Nikolova. There were some more replacements in the smaller roles. But despite all, the production is present and still performed.
Over the years, I have often felt a slight neglect of this production by the various theatre managements. Attitude like towards “nobody’s production”. It is always left to its own power, without a director. But in all these years, this production was largely supported by its brilliant author – Oscar Wilde. He would not forsake his child, he had taken care of it ever since he created it. And it is difficult for anyone to fight against it. Because the audiences like this author, because he transfers them elsewhere, gives them something they lack. This production has survived because of the audience. The audience did not let this production go away. The 150 full halls have proved that Bulgarian theatre needs Oscar Wilde, we have proved that we can perform it and that noone can stand between the audience, the actors and Oscar Wilde.
Personally, I grew up with this text, big things happened in my career alongside “An Ideal Husband”, and you – the viewers, will determine if after 12 years we will perform the production for the 300th time.
I invite you most politely, with bated breath, to watch one of the masterpieces of English dramaturgy – “An Ideal Husband” by the genius Oscar Wilde, on the Great Hall of the National Theatre “Ivan Vazov”. On February 10th.
Text – Vladimir Karamazov
Photographer – Stefan Shterev – 3inSpirit
04.02.2019 Vladimir Karamazov ®