The New Movement in the Theatre


Focussing on ‘recent developments in Europe and America’, The New Movement in the Theatre is a large, ambitious work full of striking illustrations of set designs, costume designs and production photographs from the early 20th century.

Published in London in 1931, the book showcased thrilling, modern and experimental theatre to the British public for the first time. The volume features just three British productions, in comparison to 30 from the USSR (Russia), where such pioneers as Konstantin Stanislavski and Vsevolod Meyerhold lived and worked. Notably, it features designs by modernist artists including Pablo Picasso and George Grosz.

The New Movement in the Theatre was compiled by Léon Moussinac, a French writer, critic and political activist.

The influence of The New Movement in the Theatre on Joan Littlewood

While living in Manchester in the early 1930s, Joan Littlewood and her husband, Ewan MacColl, viewed a copy of The New Movement in the Theatre in the city’s Central Library.

The book was a crucial source of inspiration early in their lives and careers: MacColl later described the work as ‘a veritable treasure-trove of concepts and ideas’.[1] Together, they formed two politically radical and formally experimental theatre groups in this decade: in 1934, Theatre of Action, and in 1936, Theatre Union. In 1945, Littlewood and a group of actors founded the Theatre Workshop – which famously went on to produce plays such as A Taste of Honey and Oh What a Lovely War.

The New Movement in the Theatre is probably the first place that Littlewood and MacColl encountered Erwin Piscator’s adaptation of The Good Soldier Schwejk (plates 41–43). Theatre Workshop staged the first English production in 1955, which was well reviewed. Its success led to a transfer to the West End in 1956.

Other key influences within the work include Meyerhold (see plate 87, in particular, and plate 102 featuring Revizor, a drama which abandoned naturalism), Bertolt Brecht and the many pioneering Russian productions such as Tairov’s Salome (plate 79), Phedre and Girofle-Girofla, Don Carlos directed by Saklnovsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko’s Lysistrata.

[1] Howard Goorney and Ewan MacColl, Agit-prop to Theatre Workshop: Political Playscripts, 1930–50 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1986), p. xxxiv.

Full title:
The New Movement in the Theatre. A survey of recent developments in Europe and America. [Plates.] With an introduction by R. H. Packman, etc.
1931, London
B T Batsford
Book / Print / Photograph / Image
Léon Moussinac, R H Packman, Edward Gordon Craig
Usage terms

This material is in the Public Domain.

Except for artworks by

Jean Hugo: © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London. Except as otherwise permitted by your national copyright laws this material may not be copied or distributed further.

George Grosz: © Estate of George Grosz, Princeton, N.J. / DACS. Except as otherwise permitted by your national copyright laws this material may not be copied or distributed further.

Held by
British Library

Full catalogue details

Related articles

Brecht, interruptions and epic theatre

Article by:
Robert Gordon
Exploring identity, Art, music and popular culture, Theatre practitioners and genres, Capturing and creating the modern, European influence, 20th-century theatre

Bertolt Brecht wanted his work to revolutionise theatre's bourgeois values and bring about social and political change. Robert Gordon introduces the aesthetic principles and techniques that Brecht believed could achieve these aims, and explores how they operate in some of his best-known plays.

Bertolt Brecht and epic theatre: V is for Verfremdungseffekt

Article by:
Andrew Dickson
Capturing and creating the modern, Art, music and popular culture, European influence, 20th-century theatre, Theatre practitioners and genres, Exploring identity

Brecht's approach to epic theatre drew on the work of earlier director Erwin Piscator, as well as cabaret, Elizabethan history plays and new technologies of light and sound. Andrew Dickson explores how the rejection of naturalism, in the service of political ideals, underpins Brecht's plays, and considers the influence of Brecht's techniques on theatre today.

Looking at the original script for A Taste of Honey

Article by:
Louise Kimpton Nye
20th-century theatre

That Joan Littlewood cut down the script of A Taste of Honey and added her own theatrical flavour is well-known. Louise Kimpton Nye takes a look at Shelagh Delaney’s original manuscript and explores some of its themes.

Related collection items

Related people

Related works

A Taste of Honey

Created by: Shelagh Delaney

A Taste of Honey (1958) overview Written when she was 19, Shelagh Delaney’s A Taste of Honey is both a ...

Oh What a Lovely War

Created by: Joan Littlewood

Oh What a Lovely War (1963) overview Oh What a Lovely War was created by visionary director Joan Littlewood and her ...