Russian influence on the Ukrainian theatre

Russian classic drama has had a great influence on the development of theatre in many socialist nations. It was a genuine school of realism for several generations of actors and directors. Indeed, the achievements of the Ukrainian theatre are largely linked with the staging of Russian classics.


The best stage interpretations of the works of Gogol, Pushkin, Ostrovsky, Tolstoy, Chekhov and Gorky by Ukrainian theatres were a peculiar blend of the traditions of the Russian and Ukrainian stage, reflecting the process of a deep synthesis of the theatrical experience of the two fraternal nations.


This tendency was especially favourably revealed in Krushelnitsky’s interpretation of Ostrovsky’s Storm staged in Kharkov with Valentina Chistyakova in the role of Katerina, and in the Kiev production of Pushkin’s Boris Godunov, in which Yuri Shumsky created the tragic character of Czar Boris with great psychological force.

The staging of Gorky’s plays infused Ukraine’s national traditions of acting with an internationalist essence. Vassa Zlieleznova, as played by Lyubov Hakkebush in Vasilko’s production of the play at the Donetsk Theatre, was presented as a stern, cruel and deeply dramatic personality. In a sequence of refined psychological episodes Hakkebush created the character of a strong-willed and clever woman who, nonetheless, subordinates her deepest feelings — maternal love — to her main ambition — to become richer. In Hakke-bush’s presentation of Vassa Zlieleznova, the emotional charge and vivid external plausibility of the character’s behaviour — features which were native to the Ukrainian tradition of acting — were organically combined with the subtle development of detail and nuance typical of the traditions of the Moscow Art Theatre.

Yegor Bulychev, as played by Victor Dobrovolsky, was a fusion of generous romantic projection and frank display of emotions — inherent in Ukrainian acting — with deep penetration into the psychology of the hero and a truthful revelation of the “life of the human spirit.” The synthesis of the qualitatively new tradition of Russian and Ukrainian theatrical art based on socialist realism was shown with particular amplitude and artistic force in one of the best creations of Buchma — the role of Ivan Kolomiytsev in Gorky’s rFhe Last Ones produced at Kiev’s Franko Theatre by Kost Koshevsky. This was a new contribution to the productions of the plays by the great Russian author on the Ukrainian stage. Buchma presented his vision of a brutal chief of police, one of the “last ones” in the ranks of formerly omnipotent representatives of czarist power bred of the cruel and immoral laws of the crumbling Russian Empire. In this character the actor also revealed the social reasons underlying the degradation of a man hopelessly entangled in lies, atrocities and baseness.

Apart from the classics, modern Soviet plays have also been a vital source of inspiration for the actors and directors in Ukrainian theatre at all stages of its development.

Both plays by Ukrainian dramatists and those by other Soviet playwrights conveyed the heroic events of the Revolution and the Civil War, paying tribute to the spiritual beauty of Soviet man and treating new problems and themes of the present day. The interpretations of new plays by Soviet Russian dramatists comprehensively showed the common, ideological and artistic quests which Ukrainian artists shared with representatives of theatrical cultures of the fraternal republics.

Relying on the experience and traditions of the Ukrainian theatre, our actors tried to show the most typical features of Soviet man, features which had united the Ukrainians, Russians and representatives of other Soviet nations into a new historical community of people building socialism in our country.

The best of the modern plays truthfully reflected important processes going on in socialist society, in particular the many-sided process of the formation of the spiritual character of the fraternal Soviet nations, their mutual cultural enrichment and gradual drawing together. There was much that was common not only in the features of the modern heroes, but also in the principles of their embodiment on the stage.

This common artistic foundation showed through with particular force and completeness in the stage characters created by Yuri Sliumsky — the revolutionary sailor Godun in Lavrenyov’s The Rupture, the ingenious Shvandya in Trenyov’s Lyubov Yarovaya, the adamantine Commissar Furmanov in Chapayev (a stage adaption of Furmanov’s famous novel), the brave worker Dutlar in Mikiteiiko’s Dictatorship, the quick-tempered Gaidai and the selfless dreamer and physician Platon in, respectively, Korniychuk’s Death of the Squadron and Platon Krechet, and the courageous Professor Buiko in Yakiv Basil’s play of the same name.

The realistic principles of a dynamic and historically concrete development of the events on the stage, as well as the arrangement of large-scale crowd scenes, were consistently asserted at the Franko Theatre by Hnat Yura in his interpretations of Dmitriy Furmanov’s and Sergei Polivanov’s Mutiny, Vsevolod Ivanov’s Armoured Train 14-69, Ivan Mikitenko’s Skilled Labour, Girls of Our Country and Dictatorship, and Korniychuk’s Death of the Squadron and Truth.

“From its inception,” Lunacharsky once aptly observed, the Ivan Franko Theatre “at once took the road of truthful realism.” Its productions proved the fruitfulness of cooperation and mutual enrichment of the fraternal theatrical cultures, as well as of the synthesis of the national and international in histrionic art.

The Russian, drama companies working in Ukraine played a great role in popularizing the achievements of Russian and Ukrainian dramaturgy. Of the most famous Russian actors who contributed to these achievements wo would like to single out. Mikhail. Romanov, Alexandr Kramov, Konstantin Khokhlov, Yuri Lavrov and Alexandr Voronovich — all of them People’s Artists of the USSR. The leading Russian theatres in Ukraine today are the Lesya Ukrainka Theatre in Kiev and the Pushkin Theatre in Kharkov. These companies have engaged such famous actors as Ada Rogovtseva, Yuri Mazhuga, Nikolai Rushkovsky, Yuri Zhbakov, Anatoliy Reshetnikov, Anna Nikolayeva, Nina Tamarova and Yevgenia Opalova.


Yuri Stanishevsky


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