Playwright Katherina Radeva on borders, nationality, and Europe today

With Brexit looming, Katherina Redeva revisits her play on the fall of communism in Bulgaria, giving it a contemporary flavour

Around ten years ago Katherina Radeva wrote a play called Fallen Fruit. It was the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The European Union existed strongly as an idea and Bulgaria had just become a part of it. 

Last year, during the Berlin Wall’s thirtieth anniversary, Katherina decided to re-write the play. As Brexit looms large, and as Katherina stands on the edge of yet another tidal turn of the tide, Fallen Fruit now tackles how different Europe is, but also how similar. It questions the very ideas of ‘borders’, and how in a moment we have gone from breaking them down to raising them back up.

In Fallen Fruit, Katherina journeys to and from a Bulgaria on the very brink of Communist collapse. Blending together vivid childhood recollections, her parent’s memories and the story of two family friends in a nation on verge of change (and the complexities inspired from it), the artist tells the story from the perspective of a little girl looking forward.

‘As a kid, you knew nothing different,’ she says, as she explains what it was like living in Bulgaria in 1989, ‘It was quite safe, in the sense that it’s such a controlled state you kind of know how it’s working. You never really veered off, and for those that did there were severe consequences.’

‘People didn’t object. It was fairly controlled. As a kid I don’t think you really know what’s going on – you don’t understand. The play focuses on the childhood memories pre -1989 and then a coming of age and realising the huge political difference. During the fall of communism we all thought ‘this is great!’, but when you realise you don’t have any food to eat is it really that great? When you have change happening, on that scale, it can never be seamless. It may never mend. Fallen Fruit is about now, but with a foresight – being able to see what worked and what didn’t. The question is – which is better?’

In many ways, Fallen Fruit asks more questions than it answers. During the play we see a gay couple separate in ’89. One escapes the Communist regime, while the other stays put. One travels the world, and in doing so gains the enlightenment of various perspectives, while the other is contained to their own. Katherina pieces these experiences together, and in doing so you gain an understanding of what has come before, what is happening now and the chaos that exists in-between. 

At one point, Katherina takes on the personality of a fictional TV show host and asks the audience questions regarding capitalism; abstract questions, laced with humour, that gently push you towards the deeper end of politics without being too heavy handed and confrontational. 

Katherina visited Berlin for three days ‘re-tracing the past’ and ‘reflecting and mapping a future.’ She tells me, ‘Berlin is not afraid of its history. This is a part of history, so we have to remember it in some way and learn from it. Walking freely across those borders feels like you’re walking on history, but also away from it. You can’t erase trauma, what we can do is learn from it.’

From the breaking of one historical barrier to the potential making of another. Katherina views Britain’s ‘inherent going it alone attitude’ as a little dated in the wake of this contemporary, global society we live in today. 

‘To have that attitude in a society that is looking for openness it feels like a step back’, she says. ‘I don’t feel there is a good economic reason for it. That sounds like the capitalist in me talking, but if there wasn’t I also feel why put a barrier up where you have worked so hard to dismantle it?’

‘I live in Scotland and there they are currently asking a big question about a second independence referendum. In a way it’s creating another barrier - going it alone again. There are good arguments, of course. Former Yugoslavia consisted of five different countries with different identities, some are now part of EU and some are not. This friction within a small region. Peace, but with friction.’

All of this has an effect on Katherina as an artist. What does nationality really do to us? We are not simply one thing. We have always been multiple things. ‘Fallen Fruit trying to dilute the idea that one is better than the other,’ she explains to me. ‘Crossing the border is a good thing.’

As an artist Katherina is inspired by the history and future of the world that surrounds her. She lights up at the mention of bringing Fallen Fruit to Belfast. It’s her first time in the country, and she is keen to explore the ‘real’ streets of the city.

‘A lot of time I get fed by the surroundings’, she confirms. ‘It’s like the fall of the Berlin wall - a moment of history. Those political moments happen in a particular place, but they are universally felt. Belfast, a city with such history, and history I feel that can somehow resonate in everyone. I can’t wait to visit.’

Fallen Fruit will take place at The MAC on Saturday, May 11. Tickets on sale now at www.themaclive.com or call the box office on 028 90 235 053.