The Titanic Orchestra

Hristo Boytchev, translated by Steve King
Pleasance Courtyard

John Hannah

It seems likely that buried beneath the surface of an absurd tale this rare example of Bulgarian magic realism has deep hidden meanings connected to Iron Curtain repression.

The 80 minutes start as a desperate quartet of shiftless drunkards dream of escape from their dead-end existences. Their problem is that the trains which pass through their station never stop.

Life changes in the smartly dressed form of local favourite John Hannah. He is alcoholic Harry, possibly Houdini reincarnated, although that is left open.

Gradually, by performing a series of illusions, he gives the lonely losers hope of escape, along the way slowly denuding their supplies of alcohol.

He gets them on side by perpetrating minor miracles such as resurrecting a dead bear and providing valid train tickets.

The final scenes suggest that this mystery man, who might even have been the conductor of the Titanic Orchestra as it sank, has been helping his fellows to achieve self-knowledge, as one or more of them disappear.

To derive the full meaning, it would probably be necessary to travel back in time to Bulgaria before the Berlin Wall fell and, without that insight, this becomes little more than light entertainment and the chance to see John Hannah in the flesh.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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