After the relatively short performance of Hilda, I was able to see the last two thirds of Levan Tsuladze’s production of Kakutsa Cholokashvili. This new play by the historian Guram Qartvelishvili explores the life of Kaikhosro Cholokashvili (1888-1930), Georgian national hero during the guerrilla resistance against the Bolsheviks in 1921.

Guram Qartvelishvili has unearthed and assembled material suppressed during the Soviet regime to create an epic play about Georgia’s struggle for freedom – naturally a very loaded subject in light of Georgia’s recent war with Russia over South Ossetia (August 2008). Against this backdrop, the historic 1920’s Soviet plans for settling the newly formed region of Ossetia, and eventually the rest of Georgia, with Russian military personnel was particularly poignant, since many Georgians see these forced re-settlements as the root of the recent conflict.

For this performance, the Marjanishvili’s large stage was used to its fullest extent, revealing a marvellous depth very appropriate to the panoramic scope of the events. The overall design was simple but effective. Moveable and tiltable platforms provided great flexibility and brought to life scenes as diverse as a lovers’ bed to the cold heights of the Battle of Sarikamish.

The acting matched this sweeping patriotic view of history in its use of pathos. The cast, with Kakutsa Cholokashvili (Nika Tavadze) as lead role, created a Hollywoodesque performance in the style of Doctor Zhivago, full of passion, male camaraderie, and heroic warfare. Gia Burjanadze was especially convincing as a burdened but responsible Marshall Kote Abkhazi. The Soviet commander’s hunchbacked servant Avksenti (Alexander Getsadze) with his gluttonous craving for food was also very memorable and added a much-needed element of humour to the piece.

Kakutsa Cholokashvili Production PhotoThe overall style of heightened naturalism combined with patriotic fervour was challenging at times for a non-Georgian audience more accustomed to psychological acting, but it was effective in what it tried to achieve. The problems of this approach lie in its consequences on the interpretation of the story. I found the aestheticisation of war through the use of heroic tableaux washed in a blue light problematic in the way it glossed over the atrocities of the armed conflicts. Even the on-stage fights were oddlly tame and insufficiently choreographed. With the recent August war in mind, such glorification of personal sacrifice can turn out to be a very dangerous call-to-arms. Given the country’s history, statements like ‘struggle always has meaning’ are understandable, but deserve closer scrutiny all the same. Not short on visual and emotional effects, it is this lack of critical thinking that stands out as a large gap in this production of Kakutsa Cholokashvili.

This production of Kakutsa Cholokashvili was reviewed on the 23/11/08 at the Kote Marjanishvili State Drama Theatre Tbilisi, large stage.

Photograph-top: Portrait of Kakutsa Cholokashvili around the time of the conflict in 1921. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Photograph-bottom: Kakutsa Cholokashvili prodcution at the Kote Marjanishvili State Drama Theatre Tbilisi, large stage

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