Modern life through the actor's distorting mirror: Basil Dean's impressions of Russia

Warden, Claire (2013) Modern life through the actor's distorting mirror: Basil Dean's impressions of Russia. In: British Comparative Literature Conference, 8-11 July, University of Essex.

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Item Type:Conference or Workshop contribution (Paper)
Item Status:Live Archive


In 1926 theatre impresario and director Basil Dean travelled across to Moscow in search of the revolutionary dramatic work he had heard so much about. Arriving in the freezing cold of January, Dean was invited to all the major theatres of the Russian Capital, meeting Meyerhold, Stanislavsky, Lunarcharsky and Tairov, and witnessing the vibrancy and energy of their theatres. While finding some innovations perplexing, he was dazzled by the Russian theatre’s ‘vitality’ and dynamism. Witnessing the biomechanics of Meyerhold, the ‘realism and expressionism successfully combined’ of Tairov and the ‘truthfulness’ of Stanislavsky, Dean returned to Britain buoyant, ready to use all that he had learnt.

Using Dean’s own reflections, this paper seeks to understand his impressions of the Soviet scene and presents him as an important, under-researched connecting point between Russia and Britain. However, interestingly, he found little scope on the English West End stage to really utilise the techniques he had seen. In fact, I claim, the most effective rendering of Russian aesthetics and themes on Dean’s stage came far later in a 1943 piece entitled Salute to the Red Army which adapted the long-standing tradition of the British pageant, infusing it with agitprop techniques that would not have looked out of place in the Soviet Russia he had visited some 17 years earlier. Combining patriotic fervour with an unwavering admiration for Britain’s Soviet allies, Salute to the Red Army marks one of the most artistically innovative moments in the British-Russian artistic nexus.

Keywords:Theatre, Second World war
Subjects:W Creative Arts and Design > W400 Drama
Divisions:College of Arts > School of Fine & Performing Arts > School of Fine & Performing Arts (Performing Arts)
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ID Code:11768
Deposited On:04 Sep 2013 10:21

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