Social Media

The Brief Life & Mysterious Death of Boris III, King of Bulgaria - Interview

The critically acclaimed, Edinburgh Fringe hit The Brief Life & Mysterious Death of Boris III, King of Bulgaria is transferring to Arcola Theatre, London, this autumn. Following a hugely successful run at Edinburgh Festival Fringe this August, this darkly comic retelling of the life of Bulgarian King Boris III combines historical theatre and folk music with a modern revisionist twist.

Winner of the Origins Award for Outstanding New Work at VAULT Festival 2020 and Second Finalists for 2023’s Popcorn Writing Award, Out of the Forest Theatre present their energetic production that astonished and intrigued Edinburgh audiences this summer. The Brief Life & Mysterious Death of Boris III, King of Bulgaria explores the suspicious circumstances of the King of Bulgaria's demise, how nearly 50,000 Jewish people were saved from deportation and death during WWII, and how the world forgot all about it. The ensemble performs Bulgarian and Jewish folk tunes while sharing this unique story from 20th century European history.

2023 marks 80 years since the events of The Brief Life & Mysterious Death of Boris III, King of Bulgaria; the anniversary of the King’s death coincided with the end of the festival, and was commemorated with a reception with Boris III’s grandson, HRH Prince Kyril. This play is a call to arms that there is power in being good and ordinary people can do extraordinary things. Even the smallest David can become a Goliath.

Photo by Will Alder

Ahead of the run I caught up with the team to chat about the show.

What first inspired the creation of the piece?
Co-writer Sasha Wilson’s Omama & Opapa (Bulgarian grandparents) gave us a copy of ‘Crown of Thorns’ by Stephen Groueff - a biography of Boris III. We were fascinated by this story of Bulgaria’s history, and shocked that we had heard nothing about it. We always said we wouldn’t make a WWII show unless we could shine a light on something new. Well..! We are not interested in telling simple stories, so researching the position of Bulgaria’s leaders and citizens in this ‘grey area’ of history was a creative challenge.
How did you approach developing the show to where it is now?
When we first developed the show in 2020 Sasha Wilson & Joseph Cullen (co-writers) worked with actors including David Leopold (who plays Metropolitan Stefan / Alexander Belev / Advisor No. 3 in our version) to shape the piece, incorporating music and fast-paced dialogue and multi-rolling. We have since worked with Dessi Stefanova of The London Bulgarian Choir on ‘Mila Rodino’ (The National Anthem) and have strong links with The Bulgarian Embassy in London and descendants of Boris III, who have further informed our development. For our 2023 versions at Edinburgh Fringe and The Arcola Theatre we have worked with Jewish Dramaturg & Director Hannah Hauer-King who offered some vital musical additions to the show. We hope to stage the full 90-min one-act version of the show in 2024.
How do you approach blending folk music with the darkly comedic production?
All of our shows to date have including folk music of some variety, including our 2018 Offie Award-Winning ‘Bury The Hatchet’. When approaching the 1940s story, we looked to include some songs of the period from British / Bulgarian / German origin. Our Director Hannah Hauer-King brought the songs ‘Avinu Malkeinu’ and ‘Shalom Aleichem’ and actor David Leopold suggested ‘Have A Little Talk With Jesus’ (which is a new addition for Metropolitan Stefan, The Head of The Bulgarian Orthodox Church) so it has been a true musical collaboration. This is very much a play with music, rather than a musical, as songs do not drive narrative but rather, they show the passage of time, or set the tone of the current scene.

Photo by Will Alder

You’ve just played a successful run at the Edinburgh Fringe, how do you reflect on the run and the challenges you faced?
We were gobsmacked with how well the fringe went for us as a company. It was our first Edinburgh Festival and we had so much support given to us from The Pleasance Theatre and ChloĆ© Nelkin Consulting, The Bulgarian Embassy in London and Crown Prince Kyril & Katharine Butler. Financially, we set ourselves a huge challenge (cast of 5 + stage manager for a month in Edinburgh… plus a team of talented creatives to pay… eek) - and in truth, with the story that we have found a way to stage, we were hopeful we could tap into some real historical and political interest from Bulgarian & Jewish communities, and we were delighted with the number of Bulgarian audience members approaching us with questions after the show.
Now on the back of the success you bring the show to London, how exciting is it to get to transfer the show after the Fringe run?
So often as actors and creatives, you can worry about where the next job is coming from, so It’s an amazing feeling to know it’s not long before you get to perform again! The Arcola Theatre is a very cool space, and we have seen some cracking shows performed there before - so to say we are excited is an understatement. We were able to share this story with nearly 4,000 people in Edinburgh, and now London audiences have nearly 5,000 chances to catch up at The Arcola from Sept 26 - Oct 21 - so pass it on!
What do you want an audience to take away from seeing the show?
We are keen that audiences leave with some wider knowledge of the events of WW2, that we all think we know so well - and a story to pass on about Bulgaria and its people. At a time when most countries across Europe were doing what they were told and complying with inhumane instructions, the people of Bulgaria (from the king down) said ‘no’ - with varying tactics nearly 50,000 lives were saved. But of course, it is much more complex than that, and we want our audience to question HOW is it that we can hold conflicting and emotionally-laden truths at the same time, and what are the human consequences of appeasement.

The Brief Life & Mysterious Death of Boris III, King of Bulgaria plays at the Arcola Theatre in London from Tuesday 26th September - Saturday 21st October. Tickets are available from

Photo by Will Alder

Post a Comment


Theme by STS