Chaos and cruelty – Oli Yellop on history and a man who made the modern world
  • By Oli Yellop
  • |
  • 23rd Aug 2022
  • |
  • Edinburgh Fringe

History is essentially chaos. It’s filled with cruel people with cruel intentions, kings and dictators and large portions of the planet's population being de-humanised, treated like cargo and/or told to sit down, shut up and breed.

The play finds Princip in Purgatory, not good enough for heaven, not bad enough for hell…

At the same time it is deeply fascinating – something I love to explore and write about.

One of the ways I have done that is by exploring some of the characters it has thrown up. A prime example is Gavrilo Princip. Do you recognise the name? Some do, but considering the forces he unleashed and the changes they wrought, remarkably few.

This year I’ll be bringing my solo show (with live music) about him to the Edinburgh Fringe. It’s called I am Gavrilo Princip and will be at The Old Drill Hall as part of Army@TheFringe.

Right now I’d like to tell you a little more about historical fiction and the man himself, Gavrilo! “History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake” said a writer more talented than most, and yet we still sleep.

Art is quite the opposite. Art is how we cope with and process trauma’s and celebrations both personal and historic. Art is how we represent the chaos of the past. And it’s also a pretty fertile plain to write plays in.

Gavrilo Princip was the young assassin that shot Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie in Sarajevo on a bright June day in 1914. The event that kickstarted the first world war and the modern era in which we live.

Gavrilo didn't know that the consequences of his actions would have such massive implications and I don't think that Franz thought the bullet he didn't see would either. History and life is funny like that.

We don’t know how the butterfly effect of our actions will play out. We didn't know we would meet our fiancé at that party, or the email we didn't send would have led to a better job. This is the interesting thing about Princip’s story and why it is such a great topic to explore artistically. That someone might, by sheer chance and bad timing change the world as we know it.

The play finds Princip in Purgatory, not good enough for heaven, not bad enough for hell, with a flawed but inflated ego and a story to tell. The idea behind the writing was that if only Gavrilo can get his story straight enough, that if he can only make the significant dates and important names of his life really sing he might at last be free.

In this way the message of the story is really how art can not only represent the past but how it can free us from it. And hopefully it will.

Related Listings

I Am Gavrilo Princip

I Am Gavrilo Princip

“I lit the spark that burned the world down”, declares Oliver Yellop’s Gavrilo Princip, before a dying trumpet slide suggests the spark may have been, in fact, rather more of… 

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