Pros: A wonderfully melancholic one-man tale intricately plotted and devised and impressively performed.
Cons: Sometimes the dialogue was spoken so fast it was hard to understand. Noise and ructions from the toilet by the theatre were occasionally distracting.
What the heck is a gadulka? This is the first thing I thought before going into this show, and in a way this is exactly what this show is about. Physically it is made of wood, metal and string, but here we are presented with a much wider view: its meaning traverses nationalities, cultures and individuals. Our gadulka player, played by Miro Kokenov, is stuck in the position of relying on his instrument for a living, whilst at the same time being entirely disgusted and disappointed by its limitations. He is in a co-dependent and loveless relationship and he simply cannot let it go.
The Burning Gadulka is an hour long one-man performance of lamentation, ranting, hopelessness and faint glimmers of love. Miro Kokenov certainly puts everything into his role. At points it felt like I was watching a feat of endurance. The physicality and frenetic pace left him drenched in sweat. Overall I was impressed, with the small niggle that occasionally the dialogue was delivered too fast, and with a Bulgarian accent on top of that it was hard to follow. The storytelling was great; so many different aspects were explored seamlessly with emotion, touching humour and curious cultural quirks.
The stage set and direction were simple and effective. The sparse space in the Drayton Arms Theatre was populated with a few props that were used to great symbolic effect. Everything was there for a reason and used with poise. The gadulka itself was tantalisingly hidden for a large portion of the show, building up its appearance and making it ever more mystical. It is definitely an odd instrument, but I empathised with its ugliness. It was like a lovable loser; a heroic and spectacular failure; a vulnerable but smiling fool; needy and refusing to go away; oblivious to its own standing. The protagonist could not rid himself of his burden – he was a gadulka player in the land of the rock star, and very much entwined with its identity. Losing the gadulka meant losing a part of himself.
Overall this was a solid show and a good night’s entertainment, with plenty to think about afterwards. Slightly tempering the experience was the gent’s toilet of the Drayton Arms pub being situated outside the theatre door which made for a few interruptions. I’m also not sure the £14 ticket price was a tad high for an hour’s performance as good as it was.
Writer: Raiko Baichev
Director: Milena Aneva
Running Until: Saturday 18 June 2016
Booking Link: http://www.thedraytonarmstheatre.co.uk/theatre/visit-us/event-list/eventdetail/5729/the-burning-gadulka