John Willett

John Willett is co-editor, with Ralph Manheim, of Bertolt Brecht: Short Stories 1921-1946, reprinted in paperback by Methuen.

Revolution strikes the eye

John Willett, 19 January 1989

For anybody interested in the history of the modern Russian theatre, particularly its visual aspects, the publication of Dr Rudnitsky’s handsomely illustrated book is an event. Based at the Moscow Research Institute for Art History, the writer is an established authority who has already published two books on Meyerhold in the USSR, and was enterprisingly commissioned by Thames and Hudson to write the present work for English-language readers. In the past two decades a handful of good studies of Meyerhold, Stanislavsky and Granovsky have been published in the West (notably the works by Edward Braun and Béatrice Picon-Vallin): but nothing on quite this scale has appeared for many years – perhaps not since Joseph Gregor and the historian René Fülöp-Miller produced their Das Russische Theater in Vienna in 1928. The subject is still astonishingly rich, and if it has lost something of its original shock effect for our theatres, it gains greatly by the author’s presentation of many of its less well-known figures and aspects, along with the new material which he prints.’


John Willett, 1 November 1984

It is now some twenty-two years since Camilla Gray’s The Great Experiment opened up for us the achievements of the Russian artistic avant-garde immediately before and after the Revolution; 13 since the ‘Art and Revolution’ exhibition at the Hayward Gallery in London. But the story of that avant-garde is only slowly becoming clear, and it remains at once deeply tragic and electrifyingly exciting. For briefly what happened was that a quite small group of artists, architects and theoreticians found themselves seething with new visual ideas, many of these deriving from the larger Modern Movement in Paris, Berlin or Munich. Suddenly the old world and the old hierarchies collapsed around them, the artistic establishment kept its head down, a whole new range of challenges and opportunities opened up. On the one hand, everything had become subject to question; it was back to basics. On the other, there was a unique chance to put the new ideas to work in a climate of radical social experiment. For a time, then, the avant-garde and its sympathisers could feel that they were shaping the future, stretching to the full that brilliant speculative recklessness which distinguishes the Russian intelligentsia. Soon, however, their impetus became blocked, diverted, dispersed, discouraged – at any rate lost – and their whole story suppressed. Talents were twisted; hopes cut short.’

The major contribution of the English theatre to last year’s Brecht centenary was Lee Hall’s dazzling version of Mr Puntila and His Man Matti, presented by the Right Size, a touring...

Read More

Brecht’s New Age

Margot Heinemann, 1 March 1984

It’s probably a good thing that we know so little about Shakespeare’s personal life. What biographical information we have concerns leases, wills, marriage lines, property. His...

Read More

English Brecht

Raymond Williams, 16 July 1981

Bert Brecht, the Communist poet and playwright, has become a cultural monument. Is it then not time, he might ask, to consider blowing him up? One of the problems is this kind of tough talk. A...

Read More

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.

Newsletter Preferences