Hot on the heels of a silver screen version of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s early life, The Sky of My Childhood, comes a stage version about the dramatic rise of the man officially known as Leader of the Nation.
Deep Roots (in Kazakh Teren Tamyrlar), written by Yerkin Zhuasbek and directed by Nurlan Zhumaniyazov, premieres at Astana’s Bayseitova Opera and Ballet Theater on July 2 and promises to offer a whimsical view of the life of Nazarbayev, who rose from a poor rural background and an early career as a steelworker to become the strongman president of Kazakhstan, which incidentally marks its 20th anniversary of independence this year.
The play takes place in a forest near Astana – the new capital that is Nazarbayev’s brainchild – and takes the form of an allegory, Zhuasbek said in the run-up to the premiere in remarks quoted by Kazakhstan Today.
The president goes there to admire the view and meets Zhaynak, an elderly man of the forest. Zhaynak, who “believes that ‘a forest is also like a man,’ and to learn its secrets you have to be in the forest at night,” urges Nazarbayev to return after dark, which – of course – he does.
Intriguingly, there he meets members of the opposition (which he rarely does in real life) and “new Kazakhs from modern-day society,” Zhuasbek explained, leaving us guessing until the premiere whether they’ll include figures such as murdered opposition leader Altynbek Sarsenbayev, Nazarbayev’s estranged former son-in-law Rakhat Aliyev, or London-based oligarch Mukhtar Ablyazov.
Politics is certainly going to feature – Imangali Tasmagambetov, the powerful mayor of Astana sometimes tipped as a possible successor to Nazarbayev, will pop up played by Syrym Kashkabayev.
Kuandyk Kystykbayev plays the president, and Zhuasbek hopes the real Leader of the Nation, who also goes by the unofficial nicknames of Papa and 01, might drop by to see a performance – when he watched The Sky of My Childhood it reportedly brought tears to his eyes.
With tickets selling at under $5, audiences are sure to flock in to see a play about a president who’s genuinely popular – but the latest dramatics will also fuel suggestions that Nazarbayev’s entourage is encouraging a burgeoning personality cult.