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Revolution strikes the eye

John Willett, 19 January 1989

Russian and Soviet Theatre: Tradition and the Avant-Garde 
by Constantin Rudnitsky, translated by Roxane Permar.
Thames and Hudson, 320 pp., £40, April 1988, 0 500 01433 7
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The ‘Golden’ Twenties: Art and Literature in the Weimar Republic 
by Bärbel Schrader and Jürgen Schebera, translated by Katherine Vanovitch.
Yale, 271 pp., £25, April 1988, 0 300 04144 6
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... 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 ...


John Willett, 1 November 1984

Russian Constructivism 
by Christina Lodder.
Yale, 328 pp., £30, September 1983, 0 300 02727 3
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... 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 ...

Each Scene for Itself

David Edgar: The Brecht Centenary, 4 March 1999

War Primer 
by Bertolt Brecht, edited by John Willett.
Libris, 170 pp., £35, February 1998, 1 870352 21 1
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Brecht in Context: Comparative Approaches 
by John Willett.
Methuen, 320 pp., £12.99, February 1998, 0 413 72310 0
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Brecht and Method 
by Fredric Jameson.
Verso, 184 pp., £19, November 1998, 1 85984 809 5
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... from our heads/But when we first agreed to put them on’). As well as translating War Primer, John Willett, co-editor of the new Collected Works, has revised his volume of essays, Brecht in Context. Although hostile to John Fuegi’s argument, set out in The Life and Lies of Bertolt Brecht (1994), that Brecht’s ...

English Brecht

Raymond Williams, 16 July 1981

Collected Plays: Life of Galileo 
by Bertolt Brecht, edited by Ralph Manheim, translated by John Willett.
Methuen, 264 pp., £7.50, October 1980, 0 413 39070 5
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Collected Plays: Mother Courage and her Children 
by Bertolt Brecht, edited by Ralph Manheim and John Willett, translated by John Willett.
Methuen, 154 pp., £7.50, January 1980, 0 413 39780 7
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Collected Plays: The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui 
by Bertolt Brecht, edited by John Willett and Ralph Manheim, translated by Ralph Manheim.
Methuen, 144 pp., £7.50, August 1981, 0 413 47270 1
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... 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 certain recklessness of language, a down-to-earth bluntness, has been widely received as his most valuable legacy. It is what makes him, some say, an essentially popular writer ...

John Sturrock

Mary-Kay Wilmers, 21 September 2017

... It​ was John who had the idea that I should say something about his professional life at his funeral. It was a very nice idea and I’m glad – not to say flattered – that he had it. But I found it a spookily hard thing to do. ‘Spooky’ because every time I thought I had a point to make I heard myself checking it with John – ‘Is that right?’ ‘Can I say that?’ ‘Does that make sense?’ – and then I began to understand what had happened to all of us ...

Brecht’s New Age

Margot Heinemann, 1 March 1984

Brecht in Context: Comparative Approaches 
by John Willett.
Methuen, 274 pp., £12.50, February 1984, 0 413 50410 7
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Brecht: A Biography 
by Ronald Hayman.
Weidenfeld, 423 pp., £18.50, September 1983, 0 297 78198 7
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... books under review belong to very different genres, both of which are relevant to this task – John Willett’s a critical and historical study based on many years as reviewer, English editor and translator of Brecht, Ronald Hayman’s a lively, detailed biography – though the first turns out to be far the more expert, original and ...


Eric Hobsbawm: Memories of Weimar, 24 January 2008

... and Dutch. It is characteristic that what amounted to a ‘Constructivist international’, as John Willett described it, was set up by a collection of Hungarians, Dutch, Belgians, Romanians, Soviet Russians and Germans at a meeting in Weimar with prospective headquarters in Berlin. This was the culture that German émigrés imported into their ...

Angry or Evil?

Michael Wood: Brecht’s Poems, 21 March 2019

The Collected Poems of Bertolt Brecht 
translated by Tom Kuhn and David Constantine.
Norton, 1286 pp., £35, December 2018, 978 0 87140 767 2
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... and every description of the opus sounds dizzying. The 1976 selection of translations edited by John Willett and Ralph Manheim contains ‘roughly five hundred poems’, while a German collected edition of 1967 has ‘approximately one thousand items’. The new book tells us that the latest complete works includes ‘more than two thousand ...

Agh, Agh, Yah, Boo

David Wheatley: Ian Hamilton Finlay, 4 December 2014

Midway: Letters from Ian Hamilton Finlay to Stephen Bann, 1964-69 
edited by Stephen Bann.
Wilmington Square, 426 pp., £25, May 2014, 978 1 905524 34 1
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... and fumed at a ‘smart-alecky’ review of some avant-garde magazines, deciding it was written by John Willett (its real author was in fact his near-namesake Ian Hamilton, never the warmest admirer of the Scottish avant-garde). He felt too good for the Scottish papers and too isolated for the English ones, though when visitors beat a path to his door ...
The Life and Lies of Bertolt Brecht 
by John Fuegi.
HarperCollins, 732 pp., £25, July 1994, 0 00 255386 4
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... I have never read a life like John Fuegi’s of Brecht. Revisionism doesn’t begin to describe it. This is dartboard stuff, effigy abuse, voodoo biography. If Fuegi could get inside the Dorotheenfriedhof, uproot Brecht’s jagged scalene headstone, dig through six feet of Brandenburg sand and a zinc coffin, and do something to the remains involving chicken heads, inverted crosses and black candles, I don’t doubt that he would ...

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