Opened in 1981, the Gabriadze Theater has become a much-loved part of Tbilisi’s cultural scene. It’s a small space with only 80 seats, but the puppets here don’t mess around, acting out high-brow dramas such as “The Autumn of Our Springtime” and “The Battle of Stalingrad.”
The theater owes its entire existence to Revaz “Rezo” Gabriadze, a Georgian of many talents. During his life, he has worked as a theater and film director, playwright, writer, painter, and graphic artist. His 35 screenplays include the Soviet classics Don’t Grieve, Mimino, and Kin-Dza-Dza, all of which have ratings above 8.1 on IMDb.
So, why puppets? Gabriadze was born in Kutaisi in what was then Soviet Georgia. He had lived his whole life under Soviet rule, and the lack of intellectual freedom was a continual hindrance to his artistic expression. Puppets became a surreptitious way to achieve a greater degree of artistic independence and a way to tell dramatic stories without drawing too much attention from his more authoritarian critics.
The theater soon had five productions under way: Alfred and Violetta, The Autumn of Our Springtime, The Battle of Stalingrad, Ramona, and Diamond of Marshal de Fant’e. Locally, the performances were an instant hit. It wasn’t long before Gabriadze and his puppets were gaining international attention, after which they went on tour: to the Lincoln Center Festival in New York, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland, the Theater de la Ville in Paris, Spain and Bogota, Toronto and London, Washington and Moscow. Few puppets have traveled so well.
The shows, whether at home or on tour, are meant for an adult audience. The theater itself describes them as “mature puppet performances full of depth and meaning,” so a far cry from Punch and Judy and Howdy Doody. When The Battle of Stalingrad begins, tiny puppet tanks roll into battle to the sound of Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich. They may be marionettes, but this is seriously moving stuff.
Attached to the theater, and built by Gabriadze in 2011, is one of the city’s most instantly recognizable landmarks: the Leaning Tower of Tbilisi. Keep an eye on the tower on the stroke of each hour, when an angel mannequin comes out to strike the bell.
Know Before You Go
The Gabriadze Theater currently runs four different performances. Always check the program in advance for schedules and availability, as space is limited.