Description

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.

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