The Play’s the Thing: Etseri, Svaneti


It’s an amazing time to be in Georgia: on May 26, we commemorate the 100th anniversary of the declaration of the first Georgian Republic, along with many countries around the world acknowledging the jubilee in various ways. It was a tumultuous time, 1918, with the “War to End all Wars” concluding, the “Peace to End all Peace” beginning, the October Revolution recent and the USSR in chaotic formation. New ways replacing ancient ones; rules, powers, kingdoms, borders and so much more changing.

Sadly, Georgia’s freedom from Russian domination was not yet to be, not by a long shot. Having signed itself into becoming a vassal of the Russian Empire at the beginning of the 19th century in order to prevent yet another Persian invasion and devastation, Georgia then saw its monarchy quickly dissolved and its territory absorbed by its younger but larger Orthodox brother. This period, forced entry into the USSR just over a century later after trying to throw it off, was no kinder. And now we still live in the shadow of that long bondage. Generations may be necessary to emerge fully from under it and become our best, freest, truest selves.

It’s also the time of year when schools release their grade 1 and 12 classes a month before everyone else, the “last bell” ritual for the latter as they close one door and walk through another, hopefully taking our pride with them. I can indeed be proud of my wife and our school’s other English teacher that not one of their grade 12 pupils has failed their final exam in English since Lali started there in 2011!

Another English event impressed our school recently, too. My wife put on a play of “pipkia da shvidi juja” (“Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”), with pupils from grades 3 and up taking part. Her university major was theater, so this is a good fit for her, and it was great fun. Some natural talents in acting emerged as the lines and roles were learned, and we have been asked to take the thing to Mestia as well, as one of several plays to be shown for Intellect Day celebrations on June 1!

The grade 3s were well suited for the parts of the dwarfs, but Snow White, the magic talking mirror and the evil stepmother-queen were also of this tender age. The huntsman was a few years older, as was the prince; narrators were from the higher grades. We spliced in a few projected scenes from Disney’s cartoon of the same name to advance the action, but almost all of the 45 minutes was our youngsters acting out their parts before parents, teachers and fellow students. Between stopping and starting the cartoon scenes on our laptop, I had the opportunity to squeeze off a few shots on my camera for posterity.

Such a thing has not been seen in our school for quite some years, even in Georgian; this, in their third language, was even more of a challenge. But they pulled it off well, enthusiastically and with plenty of volume as required, facing the audience properly and not flubbing their lines. All enjoyed it despite the language barrier, as they knew the story and could follow along. The children got over any stage fright and jumped right in. Just as well, as they’ll have a considerably larger space and audience next week in Mestia…

Tony Hanmer has lived in Georgia since 1999, in Svaneti since 2007, and been a weekly writer for GT since early 2011. He runs the “Svaneti Renaissance” Facebook group, now with nearly 1900 members, at

He and his wife also run their own guest house in Etseri:

By Tony Hanmer

24 May 2018 18:30