Sunday, March 25, 2007

Nationalism on stage

Another Sunday, another night at the Rustaveli theatre - Ilia Chavchavadze's 'Is he human, this man', edited by Robert Sturua and others. Actually, the original title of the play is 'Is a human a man?'. Leaving aside feminist thoughts, it reminds a bit of Robert Burns' 'A man is a man for a' that' - wasn't that sung at the opening of the Scottish Parliament?

You may have spotted the Georgian name of the author. There are at least two writers of this surname, Ilia who has a fine avenue named after him, and Alexander, a poet, who has a steep little cobbled street named after him (albeit opposite the opera house, and the one I have to climb every evening to get home; twice if I go out at night). Guess who is more highly rated, I guess.

According to Wikipedia, Ilia of that ilk was, amongst other talents, the leader of Georgia's national liberation movement from 1861 till 1907, when he died. There was much of this around at the time in other countries, especially in Eastern Europe. He was also a lawyer, poet, humanist, philosopher and publisher - all of which gave him plenty of scope to further the aims of his movement.

This figures. The play, which had English translation, is about a Georgian nobleman and his life. This guy is greatly given to philosophising about life, and the meaning of life. His court contains his wife, of particular ugliness, two random women, one of whom seems to be a bit feebleminded but usually hits the spot with her remarks, two male servants, and a Russian military type who loiters in the bottom lefthand corner of the stage (halfway down the pit), and who knocks back the shots of vodka.

For the first half of the play the main character just philosophises, talking to his wife, his servants, the random women and the Russian, who often corrects his facts. He tries to drink vodka with the Russian but cannot drink so fast (a frequent jibe at the Russians; there were quite a few sideways comments at Russia). He is dumbfounded, though, when it turns out that the Russian has a Georgian mother. Then the play flashes back to his earlier life; where he loses his mother quite young (as did Chavchavadze), the death of his brother (ditto), and where he goes looking for a wife - 'if the worst comes to the worst, he can always taken an Armenian girl'. Eventually a wife is found for him, and to everyone's horror, she is not excessively pretty. However, they arrange themselves, but no offspring arrives in 20 years. Off they go to pray at a particular shrine, possibly in Tbilisi (St David's mountain is mentioned - on which I live; it's a holy mountain). And would you know it, the wife becomes pregnant. Unfortunately then some Brits appear, including a guy in a kilt, and it seems, just buy the country off them - or have signed an agreement to get the land.....

It was a great, very close to the audience performance - the actors mostly leaned over a fence at the very edge of the stage - luckily they had not sold the tickets of the seats bang in front of this fence. The music was, guess what, Kancheli's Styx (again!) but also some other music, including that wonderful polyphonic Georgian song 'Suliko' which we also sing in our singing group.

I wonder what effect such plays have on the audience at a time when national pride might be a bit in the forefront, and considering that the President himself modelled his movement on Chavchavadze's moment of over 100 years earlier..... This play was premiered during Shervanadze's time, in 2000, and it would be interesting to know what the reaction was at the time. Now perhaps it provides a useful counterbalance to the other play about the president?


Dv0rsky said...

Ilia was killed, actually...