Contrasting modernities

The rural and the urban in Michael Chekhov’s Psychological Gesture and Meyerhold’s biomechanical études

Authored by: Jonathan Pitches

The Routledge Companion to Michael Chekhov

Print publication date:  May  2015
Online publication date:  May  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415710183
eBook ISBN: 9781315716398
Adobe ISBN: 9781317506867


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If there were a robust sector of theatre history based on stories of what might have been, the thwarted collaborations of Michael Chekhov and Vsevolod Meyerhold would surely have figured strongly. Two of the most celebrated artists to emerge from the Stanislavsky tradition, their paths were forcibly diverted from one another by cultural and political developments in Moscow after the Russian Revolution in 1917. Chekhov left Russia eleven years later; Meyerhold, as is well known, was never allowed to follow him, although he is reported to have rejected one opportunity to emigrate whilst on tour in Berlin in 1930, claiming his return was a “matter of honour” (Braun 1991: 261). The most tantalizing of these might-have-been alliances is sketched by Chekhov himself in his autobiography, Life and Encounters:

Meyerhold had often invited me to act in his theatre during my time in Moscow. I had always wanted to work on a role under his direction. This time he made a new proposal. Knowing my love of Hamlet, he told me that he intended to stage the tragedy on his return to Moscow. He started to tell me his plan for staging it, and seeing that I was listening so intensely, he stopped, and looking askance at me slyly over his large nose, he said: “I won’t tell you, though. You’ll steal it. Come to Moscow and we will work together.”

(2005: 153–54) Meyerhold obviously knew that Chekhov had already appeared as Hamlet in Moscow in the production of 1924 at the Second Moscow Art Theatre (MAT 2). 1 He would have known, too, that such a prospect would have been tempting, to say the least, and particularly so for the self-confessed lover of Shakespeare just two years into a life-long period of exile. 2 Yet despite this invitation from Meyerhold (and later plans too 3 ), and notwithstanding Chekhov’s undoubted desire to work with what he later called Meyerhold’s “tremendous” and “despotic imagination” (Leonard 1963: 39), there was in fact no practical collaboration between the two.

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