The first Georgian performance in Batumi was held on 8 (20) July 1879 by the local stage-lovers. This was the foundation of the Georgian theatre in Ajara. The initiator of the performance was Ketevan Zhuruli, wife of the Batumi head of Police. The stage-lovers presented Z. Antonov’s comedy “Has Uncle Got Married?!”
The first building of the theatre was constructed in 1884. It placed 450 seats. Later the theatre was located in the so called “Iron Theatre”. At the early 1890s the permanent company of theatre-lovers was supervised by Davit Kldiashvili, that time military servant. The theatre-lovers staged performances for charity purposes – in favor for “The Society for Spreading Literacy”, Georgian Book depository and poor students.
On 28 August 1912 the actors’ session founded the Actors’ Partnership. Shalva Dadiani was appointed the stage-director. “The Travellers’ Company” held the first performance in Batumi on 15 September, in the Shmaevsky Theatre. This marked the foundation of the third professional theatre in Georgia. In 1913 a Drama Society was established in Batumi, chaired by a famous public figure Ivane Meskhi. The management of the Drama Society formed a company of professionals with the director Shalva Dadiani. The Batumi Drama Company consisted of local as well as invited actors.
In 1921 Batumi Theatre was granted the title “academic”.
In 1928 the second state theatre was opened in Kutaisi under the leadership of Kote Marjanishvili that was called “Kutaisi-Batumi Theatre”. Until its transfer to Tbilisi, the theatre was conducting performances in Kutaisi as well as Batumi in 1928-1930.
In 1931-1932 theatrical season, young Iusuf Kobaladze was enrolled in the Batumi theatre company. The company was supervised by Kote Marjanishvili.
On 18 March 1937 a new theatre was solemnly opened. The company comprised the young actors educated at the Rustaveli Theatre drama studio. The teachers of the group were: Sandro Akhmeteli, Akaki Vasadze, Shota Aghsabadze, Kote Pataridze, Dimitri Aleksidze and others. The company presented a drama by G. Mdivani – “The Blind” with participation of all the company members. The company members were Lili Apkhazava, Aleksandra Gorneli (Darchia), Nunu Tetradze, Nino Pkhakadze, Giorgi Akhvlediani, Khasan Babuchogli, Bukhuti Zakariadze, Suliko Turmanidze, Iskander Kaikatsishvili, Iusuf Kobaladze, Akaki Mgeladze, Khasan Megrelidze, Zorbeg Ghlonti, Ednar Shamiladze, Mikheil Tsignadze, Murad Khinikadze and others. Archil Chkhartishvili was appointed as the Artistic Director, stage-director was Shalva Inasaridze.
Theatrical seasons in 1930-40s were fruitful and interesting. The theatre staged many plays including C. Goldoni’s “The Mistress of the Inn” (director – D. Aleksidze), G. Mdivani’s “Alkazar” (director – Sh. Inasaridze), Sh. Dadiani’s “Yesterday People” (director Sh. Inasaridze), A. Tsagareli’s “Old Times Are Past” (director A. Chkhartishvili), V. Daraseli’s “Kikvidze” (director – R. Chomakhidze), Vazha Pshavela’s “Outcast” (director – A. Chkhartishvili). After the World War II the company was joined by Gaioz Gogiberidze and Akaki Mgeladze.
On 27 July 1946 the company presented to the audience Sophocles’ “Oedipus Rex” (directors – A. Chkhartishvili, Sh. Inasaridze). The performance was a great success. The artistic victory had high acclaim from the press as well. The famous playwright L. Malyugin wrote: “Several weeks ago I saw a splendid performance of “Oedipus Rex” at a Georgian theatre in Batumi. An American writer Steinbeck was excited by the performance together with me and I was proud that the American writer could see Sophocles neither in his home country nor in Greece – the home of the great playwright – but saw it here, in our country, not on the stage of the Vakhtangov theatre in the capital city but a small sea-port town that, in the American writer’s opinion, should have been distinguished not by a theatre but dancing and pubs.”
On 19 March 1952 a new theatre building was opened in Batumi with the project of the architect I. Teplitskyi.
In 1959 the Batumi Theatre was granted the name of Ilia Chavchavadze. With times, in 1950s the theatre was joined by young actors and actresses: Mikheil Napireli, Luba Kobeshavidze, Tamar Sulkhanishvili, Natela Tsereteli, Iuri Tsanava, Manuchar Shervashidze, Nino Sakandelidze and others. In 1957, during the decade of Ajarian literature and art in Tbilisi, the Theatre showed the best performances of the repertoire: V. Kandelaki’s “Maia Tskneteli” (director – G. Laghidze), Sophocles’ “Oedipus Rex” (directors - A. Chkhartishvili, Sh. Inasaridze), P. Loria’s “Dinara” (director – G. Mravladze), Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” (directors - A. Chkhartishvili, Sh. Inasaridze), A. Stein’s “Personal Case” (director – Sh. Inasaridze). The theatre earned high rating from critics.
From 1960s significant changes took place at the theatre. Talented youth enters the scene. Like Tbilisi theatres, Batumi theatre had a renovation period. In 1960-70s the creative group of the theatre is increased by young actors and stage-directors who later were to make great contribution to the development of Batumi theatrical art. These were: directors – Gizo Zhordania, Gogi Kavtaradze, Enver Chaidze, Temo Abashidze, Guram Abesadze, Dato Khinikadze; actors: Levan Glonti, Amiran Takidze, Niaz Meskhidze, Nunu Khinikadze, Berdia INtskirveli; from 1970s – Sergo Baziashvili, Sergo Kunchulia, Tsira Abzianidze, Luiza Jibladze and others. The repertoire of the Batumi theatre in 1960-70s was distinguished by diversity: C. Goldoni’s “The Mistress of the Inn” (director I. Kobaladze), A. Ostrovsky’s “Without a Dowry” (director – Sh. Inasaridze), Guillermo’s “Fox and Grapes” (director – Sh. Inasaridze), Moliere’s “The Doctor in Spite of Himself” (director – E, Chaidze), Shakespeare’s “The Twelfth Night” (director G. Kavtaradze), N. Gogol’s “The Government Inspector” (director – G. Kavtaradze), Hasek’s “The Good Soldier Svejk” (director – E. Chaidze), M. Gorky’s “Egor Bulichev” (director – G. Abesadze), Durrenmatt’s “The Physicists” (director – D. Khinikadze), VAzha Pshavela’s “Mindia” (director – G. Zhordania), VAzha Pshavela’s “Aluda Ketelauri” and “Host and Guest” (director – G. Kavtaradze), E. Yurandot’s “The Ninth Saint” (director G. Abesadze).
In the 1970-1990s, a new generation come into the theatre, the actors: A. Karchava, K. Kobaladze, B. Mikautadze, L. Abuladze, N. Gogitauri, J. Veliadze, M. Tsetskhladze, T. Komakhidze, E. Chavleishvili and others; stage-directors: Z. Sikharulidze , M. Lebanidze.
From the second half of the 1980s, the ongoing social-political changes in the country were reflected in the Georgian theatre as a whole including the Batumi theatre as well. Unstable situation made an impact on the policy of the theatre repertoire as well as its aesthetics. From the second half of the 1990s Levan Mirtskhulava becomes the artistic director of the theatre who strives to change the existing situations. His production of Jean Anouilh’s “The Lark” and Grigol Robakidze’s “Lamara” made no effect on the existing situation.
From 2005 Robert Sturua was appointed as the artistic consultant to the theatre with Giorgi Tavadze (his pupil) as the artistic director. Robert Sturua’s production of D. Kldiashvili’s “Trouble of Darispani” marked the beginning of the theatre revival. The company was refreshed. New actors were added to the group: D. Jakeli, M. Manjgaladze, T. Shamiladze, M. Kobaladze, T. Tatarashvili, J. Kakhidze, M. Nakashidze, M. Burduli, O. Katamadze and others. A number of interesting plays were performed: L. Bugadze’s “Nugzari and Mephistopheles”, I. Samsonadze’s “Banana and Quince Pudding with Cognac and Rome”. The theatre became a member of informal organization of European theatres.
Since 2014, Andro Enukidze, a prolific stage-director of the mid generation, has been appointed as the artistic director of the theatre. He has made radical changes in the creative atmosphere, renewed the repertoire and regularly offers premieres to the viewers. In 2015 a new experimental space – “New Stage” was created where experimental performances have been presented by the all generation Georgian and foreign stage-directors – Andro Enukidze, Zaza Sikharulidze, Lasha Sherozia, Avto Varsemashvili, Misha Charkviani, Jon Sapdaru (Romania), Tarek Iskander (Great Britain), Nugzar Gachava, Nini Chakvetadze, Gogi Kavtaradze, Linas Marijus Zaikauskas (Lithuania), Jacek Glomb (Poland), Hannah Moss and David Ralfe (Great Britain), Davit Matskhonashvili, Gogi Margvelashvili, Zura Sikharulidze, Giorgi Shalutashvili, Keti Dolidze, Giorgi Sikharulidze, Cressida Brown (Great Britain), Gabriel Goshadze, Manana Kvirkvelia. The theatre repertoire contains works by Shakespeare, Gogol Zola, Franco, Mrozek, Kldiashvili, Vazha Pshavela and other classic authors.
The theatre regularly goes on tours throughout Georgia as well as other European countries, participates in prestigious festivals and theatre forums. A number of company members have been awarded prizes of festivals or contests many times.
In 2015-2018 the international charity foundation “Cartu” implemented restoration-rehabilitation of the theatre historical building. At present, one big stage and two small stages are functioning at the theatre. The theatre is equipped with ultramodern technical means.