Theatre in Life, Life in Theatre
Just a stone’s throw from Paveletsky Station is the Bakhrushin State Central Theatre Museum (Государственный центральный театральный музей имени А. А. Бахрушина). Named for its founder, the merchant and advocate of the arts Aleksei Alexandrovich Bakhrushin, the Museum is compact, despite being housed in Bakhrushin’s own manor. Glorious and traditional Russian designs and embellishments meet you as you enter the cosy foyer: detailed patterns are painted right up to and across the ceiling, window frames hold panes of glass in bright and pretty colours, and a small but magnificent wooden staircase leads up to the museum’s exhibits.
Unfortunately, before I was able to appreciate the interior design of the entrance hall, I was confronted with something less majestic and pleasing: a rather unprepossessing and mean ticket lady. Now I have had my fair share of dealings with ladies selling tickets to attractions across Russia and many, but not all, of those experiences have been positively positive. Alas, this lady was not willing to indulge my, at times, wobbly Russian, nor was she willing to give any information that would allow even a native Russian speaker to discern what her questions meant. “What are you here for?” struck me as a particularly odd one as the answer seemed so obvious: to look around the museum. It was only later (after I had given her my answer, she had proceeded to look at me as if I had asked her what year it was, she had repeated her question and I had said “What do you want from me?”) that she enlightened me: did I want to see the whole museum or just the permanent exhibitions?
This may not seem like a very dazzling review so far, but I promise you that the other staff were delightful and the exhibitions were interesting or at the very least intriguing. The history of Russian dramaturgy is shown in one room with historic artefacts and interactive screens providing information about everything from the phenomenon of private theatres in the homes of aristocrats, Catherine the Great’s influence on the development of theatre and the arts, and dolls used in puppet theatres. More items from Bakhrushin’s collection are also displayed, though by no means all of it as the sum total of his treasury is estimated to be some 1.5 million items.
Temporary exhibitions change regularly but you can currently learn about plays that have been adapted for the Silver Screen, with a show reel playing in a miniature cinema set-up. Stage and cinema costume designs for adaptations of various famous Russian plays, Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya and Ostrovskii’s Without a Dowry to name but a few, are displayed alongside original movie posters. Another temporary exhibit marks the 120th birthday of the actress Faina Ranevskaya who is considered one of the greatest Soviet tragedy and comedy actors. Ranevskaya later made her name in cinema and is also renowned for her aphorisms, which are displayed around the room. A particular favourite of mine is “There is no such thing as a fat woman, only small clothes” (“Нет тольстих женщин, есть маленькая одежда”).
The Theatre Museum is small and cosy, but that doesn’t make it any less interesting. It is worth a look just for the foyer alone – and that way if the miserable lass at the ticket desk is still there when you go, you can run away having gaped at the ceiling! But if you do indeed manage to procure your ticket, the museum provides much information and many things to look at. Go and get inspiration for your next film adaptation of a play to watch or learn more about the stars of Russia and the Soviet Union whose fame and talent have not reached us overseas. As Charlie Kaufman once said, “There is theatre in life and in life there is theatre,” and the Bakhrushin State Central Theatre Museum promises to show you just that.
Find out more about current exhibitions and where to find the museum at www.gctm.ru
Ellie, currently studying Russian at Liden & Denz Moscow
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