Bulgarians and the British fought each other for the first time during the First World War. But in the war there was also time for relaxation in the frontline theatres. Writing about the theatres on the Balkan front, H. Collinson Owen, Official Correspondent in the Near East, emphasized the tolerance of the Bulgarians, who were just a shot away:


“All the Divisional theatres had the added spice that they were well within the enemy  artillery range – they were, in fact, the most advanced of any war theatres – and the programme contained instructions as to scattering  tactics  in case of bombardment. But the Bulgar hardly ever tried to shoot at them, and this was one of the things put down to his credit”


The Bulgarians at the British front not only tolerated the theatres of the enemy, they had also shown particular interest in some of the enemy performances. There is an example of that in the book “MILLITARY OPEARATION IN MACEDONIA” by Cyril Falls:

“In the spring of 1918 the fame of the pantomime song “Boris the Bulgar”, spread to the Bulgar himself; he translated the verses and posted them outside the trenches of the 28th Division with a request that he should be supplied with the music.”   


The text of that song is not found in the official war reports, but British researchers of that period have discovered it. It might be the case, that, to some extent, the text had been inspired by the world famous bayonet charges. Here is the text:

“I am Boris the Bulgar, The man with the knife,
The pride of Sofia, The taker of life.


Good Gracious, how spacious and deep are the cuts
Of Boris the Bulgar, The Knifer, the knut.”


Just four years after the war, the theatre critic of THE ILLUSTRATED LONDON NEWS T.Grein praised the Bulgarian State`s policy on the theatre as more advanced than that of the British. In an article entitled THE THEATRE IN BULGARIA published on December 16, 1922 he says:

“In 1888 (take note, ye readers who happen to be County Councillors and other patres curiae ) the State of Bulgaria granted the first subsidy to the company of the “Bulgarian Theatre”, which was then housed in a wooden shanty such as we find still in English country fairs. The acting in those days was still archaic; the plays mainly bad translations from the French and German, or adaptations from the Russian, which is familiar to most Bulgarians. Twenty years later there took place in Sofia the inauguration of the National Theatre – build by the State; maintained by the State.”


T. Grein says that he had seen pictures of that new theatre building in Sofia, which has completely changed the theatre scene in the country, and adds in conclusion:

The National Theatre of Bulgaria took great flights; the actors after studies in Paris and Vienna were real artists (the Bulgarians are full of temperament); the native playwrights, too, were no longer amateurs, but stimulated by the Russian school of Tchekoffs, Tolstois, Dostoievskis, tried to reproduce national life in their work. With the war the flood of Russian refugees peopled Bulgaria with many actors of renown who came to stay; soon Sofia had the Renaissance Theatre giving operettas, and its Free Theatre, with its high-brow  clientele; and every fair-sized city now has its playhouse and its own company, while once a year the Bulgarian National Theatre – this is a condition of the subsidy – tours around the provinces so that the country may learn what is done with the country`s money. And our Shakespeare Memorial administrators  grant one miserable thousand per annum to the Old Vic; the State does nothing at all! They do things better in Bulgaria!”


Nowadays, hundred years later, The British state gives almost 200 million pounds annually to nearly 200 different theatres in the country. It might be said, that the British had adopted an old bulgarian model. But, regrettably, it is unlikely that somebody in the country of Shakespeare would say these days: “They do things better in Bulgaria!”


By Dimitar Dimitrov, bulgarologue

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