Article Title

Moscow, St Petersburg, London: Hubert Griffith and the Search for a Russian Truth


Claire Warden


In 1929 Russian émigré Theodor Komisarjevsky directed a new play at the Arts Theatre London: Hubert Griffith’s Red Sunday. The play stands as a remarkable and largely overlooked theatrical rendering of recent Russian history, containing historical figures such as Tsar Nicholas II and the Tsarina, Lenin, Trotsky and Rasputin. Like much modernist performance, Red Sunday caused significant offence, in this case to London-based Russian exiles, the royal family and mainstream British media. Subsequently the Lord Chamberlain rejected Griffith’s request to stage it in the West End.

This article aims to rehabilitate Griffith as an important and insightful British commentator on Russian history, a traveller and writer committed to challenging British preconceptions of a sometime ally, sometime enemy. It also reassesses his play Red Sunday, neglected in discussions of British modernist theatre despite praise from theatrical luminaries like George Bernard Shaw and John Gielgud, by bringing it into dialogue with a tradition of interrupted naturalism. Challenging typical naturalist linearity, illusory mimesis and elaborate sets, these plays tap into the techniques of avant-garde performance, whether the declamation of agitprop or the atmospheric scenography of symbolism. In creating this amalgamated style, playwrights seemed consistently committed to revealing truth about the world outside the theatre walls rather than lapsing into disengaged aesthetic experiment. In this article Red Sunday becomes a case study, a focal point for comparative discussions about truth and modernist performance, lifelike accuracy and fictionalised theatre, and naturalism’s relationship with other modernist theatrical modes.

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.