“Lenchen’s Secret” – dir. Elitsa Petkova

Be careful what you wish for

Alexander Hristov

Production team

“Lenchen’s Secret” by Michael Ende

Translated by Lilia Racheva
Dramatization and direction Elitsa Petkova
Scenography and poster: Ivaylo Nikolov, Iva Gikova
Animation by Teodor Kiryakov
Music by Plamen Petkov
Photographer and trailer Alexander Bogdan Thompson
Participants: Anna-Valeria Gostanyan, Elitsa Mateva, Ivana Boboicheva, Yordan Tinkov, Lyuben Chanev, Maria Dzhoykeva

Michael Ende is among the beloved authors in the Bulgarian puppet theater. He creates fairy-tale worlds in which children realize the tribulations of their wildest dreams, and adults are reminded of the forgotten ability to provoke their imaginations. Inspired by this thread, the newest performance of the puppet theater in Stara Zagora – “Lenchen’s Secret”, based on the fairy tale of the German writer, presents a story about the collision of the universes of the small and the big.

At first glance, this conflict is reduced to a simple child-parent opposition. The fight for play instead of lessons, for dessert instead of dinner, and for going to bed late. Against this struggle is the upholding of rules, education, obedience.

The director of the production, Elitsa Petkova, does not give much time to the clash in question, which is generally charming, but rarely leads to a concrete outcome and unnecessarily slows down the stage action. She quickly puts the decision in the hands of the wronged child – magic.

It becomes even more interesting when the magic does not come by itself, but in the form of help from another person. A witch (Anna-Valeria Gostanyan) puts in the hands of little Lenhen (Ivana Boboicheva) the solution to her problems – the one with which she can neutralize the adults.

This is a turning point in the performance in terms of the aesthetics in which it develops. Up to this point, the material environment has been cleared of the presence of puppets, and in their place live actors and their real actions predominate. From here on, a significant change follows, which in this aspect turns the situation 180 degrees. Not only do the puppets and puppet elements enter the production, but the stage action becomes subject much more to external surrealist influences than to the cause-and-effect relationships recreated from reality.

This component of the spectacle further increases the parameters of kinetics and diversity. At one point, we see Lenchen sitting on the floor of her nursery and hearing her parents’ voices; they themselves now and then pass, and of them only their feet are shown. The little girl is in her world of games and fun.

Adults, on the other hand, are also immersed in their daily work, bills and other responsibilities. Magic radically changes this and gathers the two metaphorical spaces into one common vision. The valuable thing here is that this is done without changes in the scenographic elements and the visual environment.

After Lenchen puts two enchanted sugars obtained from the witch into her parents’ morning coffee, the adults experience a physical change. Several times they shrink and keep getting smaller and smaller. As up until that moment they had been big people played by the actors in life plan, they suddenly turned into puppets led by puppeteers.

From then on, changes also occur in the atmosphere of the stage action, in the character and behavior of the actors. At first, the child feels joy in the fact that she is now the strong one, that she has the upper hand over those who until recently demanded of her. Soon after comes the realization that this extraordinary and repeated shrinking could lead to the complete disappearance of her parents. There is also the fear caused by the hostile world where the little man has found himself without the support of his patrons. However, there is a happy ending in the end and the adults return to their actual sizes. The final scene takes us back to the beginning of the play. Both the big and the small are now much more understanding and loving because, at least for a short period of time, they have stepped into each other’s shoes.

Although the performance abounds with various stage elements, their full-blooded and unified presence is noticeable. The director’s ideas are presented clearly and gain visibility, they are enhanced with scenographic solutions that instantly transform the space and turn it from real to magical, from framed to infinite.

Regarding the latter, the animation, the work of Teodor Kiryakov, is a great help. His minimalist look adds extra tension at key moments of the performance and enriches the visual environment, illustrating outwardly the inner anxieties of the stage images. In general, one of the most impressive moments in the production is related to the animation in question.
It is about a certain scene in the play when Lenchen is left alone outside and it starts to rain. There is no one to open the door to her home because her parents are already so tiny that they are lost in the sugar bowl in the kitchen cupboard. The rainfall is depicted on the wall in a way that makes us think for a moment that the three-dimensional stage image has disappeared and a two-dimensional picture has appeared in its place. The child is scared, alone, new dangers are ahead of him, and it is getting dark and scary outside. As if for this short moment, in the salon you can feel the fear, the fright, touch the sadness…

In these cases, I would look around and see the reactions in the audience to know that the thoughts in question were not just in my head. I looked at the faces of elderly people, of parents, to whom that inner whispering voice reached that they themselves were doing something wrong. The realization that they have forgotten how they too were once young, dreamed and rebelled against things that today they consider normal everyday life.

I noticed a reaction even among the children in the salon. They, in their primal way, sympathized with Lenchen’s difficulties and seemed to be beginning to understand their delusion that the world of adults was no easier and freer than theirs. Perhaps they were indeed aware that they too were quick to accuse their parents; that being great means not only the happiness of having everything you want, but also being responsible for it.

Funded by National Culture Fund.