Photographer: Atanas Kanchev

“He was to Bulgarians what Havel was to the Czechs and Mrozek to the Polish.”

Krikor Azaryan

Stanislav Stratiev wrote successful prose and hugely popular film scripts but his greatest achievement – in theatre – came almost involuntarily. He was practically coerced into writing his first play. In the early 1970s, his friend, Sofia Satirical Theatre director and actor Neycho Popov literally made him write The Roman Bath.

By that time, the young Stratiev had satirical feuilletons, funny scenes and sketches to his credit, and had published two books of short stories. He worked as a journalist, something which he continued to claim to be for long years afterwards. Years later Stratiev reminisced the following.

“I was working for the Sturshel satirical weekly, renting a flat in Sofia and writing a film script on Mount Vitosha, in a bungalow in the Tihiya Kut area. Two months previously, I had carelessly caved in to the insistent requests of my friend Neycho Popov and promised him I would write a play for him to stage… Of course I had never put down on paper even a single letter of a play. I wasn’t thinking about a play at all. I was writing a film script. But Neycho Popov kept calling me on the phone, asking how the play was going. ‘It’s fine’, I would reply, blushing with discomfort. How was I supposed to tell him there was nothing furthest from my mind that writing a play?

Of course, after receiving the reply ‘It’s fine’ for the tenth time, he became suspicious and started coming to Tihiya Kut to confront me in person.

Yet whenever I heard a car engine and saw Neycho’s Renault approaching, I would instantly disappear from the bungalow and hide in the wood. Neycho would hang around, have coffee, wait, and keep knocking on the door. Meanwhile I would lie in the wood, watching him, wondering when he’d be fed up with waiting and head back to Sofia...”

Feeling guilty about this, Stratiev made a token effort at writing a play. “I decided to write a few pages, and then come up with the usual excuses – writer’s block, imagination fatigue, artistic failure and so on and so forth – all the familiar stuff. But, as it happens in such cases, I sat down, I wrote and waited for my writer’s block, and I waited and waited but it never came. When you want something too dearly, it never happens. Thus, in waiting for my block, my artistic crisis, the draining of my imagination and the sapping of my creativity, the pages kept piling up, and, before I could think of another excuse to wriggle out of this awkward situation, the play was completed. I had written it.”

The Roman Bath was performed for over 10 years at the Sofia Satirical Theatre alone and was seen by over 300 000 theatregoers there. Considered to be one of his funniest plays, it won him the love of the audiences. Stratiev’s success with the critics, however, came with his second play, The Suede Jacket, which brought him international fame as well. Other plays followed: The Bus, The Perfectionist, Mammoth, and many more. On the Other Side was dramatized by the BBC’s World Service Radio in 1993. Stratiev’s plays ended up being staged across the world.

© Aeolus project 2016. All rights reserved.