Will Vladimir Putin one day be tried by the International Criminal Court (ICC)? On stage, a teenager mourning her family killed in Ukraine imagines such an outcome in the war, under the gaze of a shocked Bulgarian audience. Initially created in Poland, the play, simply titled “The Hague”, is currently being performed at the National Theater in Sofia. In this EU country, a former communist state in Eastern Europe historically linked to Russia, where the Kremlin’s theses still appeal to a large segment of the population, the bet was risky.

It is obviously successful. Full house, actors applauded, audience moved to tears. “The spectators are shaken and ask themselves questions,” greets Galin Stoev, director of the Bulgarian version. Shocked by “an unjustifiable aggression” against Ukraine, he explained to AFP that he wanted to “intervene at his level” to open the eyes of the Bulgarians, of whom “30% are pro-Putin according to studies”. When he discovered the text by Ukrainian author Sacha Denissova, Galin Stoev – a Franco-Bulgarian who is also director of the National Drama Center of Toulouse – did not hesitate.

The argument? A young girl, whose loved ones were cut down by Russian bombs in the hell of Mariupol, delivers “with the eyes of a child her interpretation of the terrible reality of war” and her dream, that of seeing herself delivered to the justice “Putin and his clique”. The Russian president is portrayed by a woman. Black suit, tie and red shoes, she transforms at the end into a cruel fairy tale, dressed in a transparent petticoat and speaking in the style of the “Sun King” Louis XIV: “Russia is me, I am Russia.” As with Adolf Hitler mocked by Chaplin, “we must laugh at Putin mercilessly”, because satire weakens him, believes Sacha Denissova.

The piece combines “known lines from real personalities”, in a very documented style, and an “invented future”. “If we can’t see the Hague trial in reality, let’s watch it in the theater,” she says about her show, written even before Vladimir Putin was targeted in March with a warrant. international arrest warrant from the ICC for the “deportation” of Ukrainian children to Russia. Sacha Denissova first created it in Poznan, Poland, where she had fled, before being invited to the United States. Each time, there are different adaptations and troupes depending on the country.

Main challenge, constantly adapting the piece according to the twists and turns of current events. Yulian Vergov, who plays Evgeni Prigozhin, describes his panic at the need to revise his entire text after the abortive mutiny of the boss of the Wagner group, then his death in the mid-air explosion of his plane at the end of August. “We added new lines, and then more new ones” almost in real time, leaving doubt about its fate, he says. “It’s the first time I was faced with this experience: playing a real character who dies during rehearsals. It’s impressive”.

The troop also follows the latest rumors about the state of health of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, Putin’s faithful ally, or even the Russian president himself. Rare criticism has emerged of the “partiality” of this political theater, described by one of its detractors as “propaganda vaudeville”. An actor declined a role for ideological reasons, in a cultural environment generally reluctant to interfere in public debate.

“We invite the viewer to reflect on real events, to draw their own conclusions,” replies the director of the room Vassil Vassilev. Politicization is just the opposite: when we are told what to think.”

Actress Radena Valkanova – Putin on stage – is delighted with the positive reception. “The play is there to awaken mentalities in a nation that is too passive” which is not aware of the horrors of war, she judges. After a stopover in Toulouse, Galin Stoev outlines a wish: to present The Hague in the countryside of his native Bulgaria, deprived of access to culture and sensitive to pro-Russian arguments.