The Burning Gadulka

This hour-long dramatic and comedic monologue is a persistent exploration of why the existence of the gadulka – a traditional Bulgarian folk instrument – is the worst thing that ever happened to a gadulka player. The three-stringed instrument is constantly berated and insulted by sole actor Miro Kokenov throughout this fascinating stream of consciousness. It is ugly and depressing, and fits into Bulgarian folk songs only when drowned out by the tupan drum and bagpipes.

At once a nostalgic ode to the traditions that are being killed off by the mechanisation of music, and a screaming good riddance.

The script of this play, written by Rayko Baychev and translated into English by Angela Rodel, is an oddly enthralling glimpse into Bulgarian folklore and traditions. Kokenov is the perfect fit for this part: energetic and engaging, he is seen screaming and wailing at the instrument, encapsulating self-indulgence, mania and heartbreak with skill. He perfectly captures the typically Bulgarian self-flagellating humour, and there are many laugh-out-loud moments throughout the performance. A particularly memorable scene is where Kokenov, lying seductively on his side, tries (unsuccessfully) to avoid telling an imaginary lover that he is a gadulka player. He also goes on to recount the Bulgarian folk orchestra’s madcap adventures on tour in France, and a lot of the comic delivery is achieved by how the obsessions of the Bulgarians are totally out of step with any of the musicians from anywhere else in the world.

It is a shame that we did not get to hear Kokenov play the gadulka for a more extended period, treated only briefly to an intentionally terrible rendition of Für Elise. Then again, giving the gadulka its own space and time to shine would defeat the very point of this one-sided polemic. At once a nostalgic ode to the traditions that are being killed off by the mechanisation of music, and a screaming good riddance.  

Reviews by Jonathan Mayo

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The Blurb

Following a series of failures at music festivals, a Bulgarian musician faces a midlife crisis. Is his lifelong love affair with his instrument – the gadulka, about to be challenged by the arrival of a mysterious girl? Will his crippling shyness destroy any relationship before it can begin? Where do pandas come into the dilemma? Miro Kokenov takes us on a comic journey of doubt, sarcasm and the wonders of nature. 'A worthwhile experience' **** ( ‘Consuming and purifying’ ***** (