Kris Sharkov: “Unbearably Long Embraces” invites us to rethink our sensual experience

Director Kris Sharkov talks to Anita Angelova about his staging of “Unbearably Long Embraces” by Ivan Vyrypaev, part of the “Showcase” programme on 8th June at the City Art Gallery.

What purely human issues does the performance “Unbearably Long Embraces” address?

There is a recurring motif in the play that is very reminiscent of a line Tusenbach makes in his dialogue with Vershinin in Chekhov’s Three Sisters , namely “It’s snowing. What’s the point?”. In general, Vyrypaev’s text stands firmly on Tusenbach’s side, reminding us of the basic simplest principles of the universe and therapeutic for our overwhelmed modern souls. I think the main point here is about man’s ability to rethink our sensuous experience.

“Unbearably Long Embraces” Photo: Julian Rachkov

This is not the first time a text by Ivan Vyrypaev has been staged in Bulgaria. How do the themes the author unfolds fit into our reality. How did his dramaturgy attract your attention?

Indeed, Vyrypaev has a strong staging history in Bulgaria. There is a relevance between the cultural context of his plays and our reality. Perhaps it also lies in this liminality between East and West in all aspects – geographical, philosophical, cultural. But the most defining and compelling, in my opinion, is the emotional world of his plays. I still remember my first encounter with Vyrypaev as a spectator – it was at the performance “Archaeology of Dreaming” directed by Galin Stoev and created specifically for the Varna Summer Festival.  I have been following and liking Vyrypaev ever since. The very first time I read “Unbearably Long Embraces” in English, I realized that this text has a lot to do with the themes and the theatre that I am passionate about.

Kris Sharkov

The set design of the play is very interesting. What symbols does it hide?

From the very beginning I had the feeling that this was a utopian text to set. Therefore, the space should not depict anything, but be mainly a mediator for its happening in the spectator. In the moments when the characters pass through the “blue point”, i.e. the liminal zone between life and physical death, the actors are in inflatable balls that look like both placentas in the womb and planets. This is the only more metaphorical move. Rather, the realistic visual layer is contained in the multimedia, which includes footage shot with the actors in Berlin, most often in the exact locations where the play is set, such as a particular corner of two streets in the Kreuzberg area.

“Unbearably Long Embraces” Photo: Julian Rachkov

It is perhaps a more difficult task for an actor to get into character but stand slightly removed from it and comment on it without it seeming implausible, as the play demands. How did you manage this task with the actors?

It’s more difficult because it doesn’t allow for the inertia of a representation of a relationship or any other type of formal approach to the text. But I think that this type of detachment is somehow very appropriate to the avatar reality we live in. This play deals with the modern man, disconnected from himself, having many identities and digital doubles, but not just as a theme – that’s at the heart of its very form and therefore the type of acting. This is what I find extremely valuable and rare in contemporary playwrighting. I think the new empathy in theatre contains detachment, it doesn’t exclude it. But it’s very important that I worked with great actors to achieve this approach – Dimitar Nikolov, Maria Sotirova, Martin Dimitrov, Veselina Konakchiyska.

Tell us more about this unusual relationship between the actors and the viewer in the performance and the path they walk together.

Vyrypaev has one very important piece of advice for the actors who perform his plays, and that is that his plays should be felt, not conceptualised. This is where the most important link in this relationship lies. I think it did happen.

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