Salute to the Red Army: Basil Dean and British wartime pageantry

Warden, Claire (2013) Salute to the Red Army: Basil Dean and British wartime pageantry. In: Alternative Modernisms, 18 - 21 May 2013, University of Cardiff.

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


This paper focuses on an unresearched moment in British theatre history – the 1943 performance Salute to the Red Army – organised by well-known producer Basil Dean at the Royal Albert Hall and performed by prominent British actors, including John Gielgud, Laurence Olivier and Sybil Thorndike as well as groups of soldiers, land girls, nurses and military musicians. Coinciding with ‘Red Army Day’, it was a remarkable celebration of the Russian army and its victory in Stalingrad, as well as a call for Anglo-Russian unity.

I suggest that this performance can be read as part of a particular tradition of British pageantry that began in Medieval times and continues even to this day, as illustrated by the 2012 Thames river pageant in celebration of the Queen’s jubilee. However, it is also a British example of a genre that dominated the modernist cultural scene in a range of countries from WEB Dubois’ promotion of racial identity, The Star of Ethiopia (1913), to the Italian fascist honouring of a truck, 18BL (1934). It was also a prominent form in post-revolutionary Russia with pieces like Nikolai Evreinov’s The Storming of the Winter Palace (1920).

While this piece could be claimed as a continuation of a local pageant form, actually it could also be understood as a response to Russia both thematically, but also aesthetically. For the government-endorsed performance used an agit-prop declamatory voice, a Living Newspaper-style structure and an overwhelming sense of didacticism. In this way it looked more like a performance from early Communist Russia than mid-century Britain. This paper claims that it is a vital example of transnational modernism, a moment that was as much as a continuation of Russian aesthetics that had long been overwhelmed by Stalin’s Socialist Realism as a contribution to British pageantry.

Keywords:theatre, modernism
Subjects:W Creative Arts and Design > W440 Theatre studies
V Historical and Philosophical studies > V146 Modern History 1920-1949
Divisions:College of Arts > School of Fine & Performing Arts > School of Fine & Performing Arts (Performing Arts)
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ID Code:9802
Deposited On:10 Jun 2013 11:46

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