Mikhail Ulyanov – Artistic Director (1987-2007)

When Ulyanov came to The Theatre he was not going either to stage by himself or cut the troupe as he had worked with them for years and tried to avoid barbarity; he was determined to call outstanding directors and playwrights. Three celebrated directors were admitted to the team of The Theatre, these were: Pyotr Fomenko, Roman Viktyuk and Arkady Katz.

The first opening show carried out after Simonov’s resignation was “The Rookie” (“Kabanchik”). Adolf Shapiro, a well-known director from Riga, was invited to stage the play written by Viktor Rozov.

By the end of 1987 the opening night of the “Treaty of Brest-Litovsk” by Mikhail Shatrov had taken place – this documentary play had been at a dead calm for twenty five years. The new version was half-true but daring: it was the first time for such characters as Trotsky (Vasily Lanovoy) and Bukharin to appear onstage. Robert Sturua, a Georgian director, was putting onstage a performance about Lenin’s effort to end war promptly in no support of his companions. Ulyanov played Lenin in a passionate manner with no stage make-up. This severe and ascetic play was heavily censored (as it used to in those days), but well-known revolutionaries appearing in black coats like ravens, coming from the back of the stage together with tragic music by Giya Kancheli did make a strong impression.

The theatre in those years was interested not only in new directors, new themes, but also in new exquisiteness produced by performances.

The staging of Eugene Scribe’s comedy “The Glass of Water” personified this idea. This bright performance directed by Aleksandr Belinsky with Joseph Sumbatashvii’s set design was contemplated to become the benefit performance of Jury Yakovlev. Yuliya Borisova unexpectedly showed Queen Ann as a poor and piercingly naive creature. Duchess Malborow was a volcanic female general in Lyudmila Maksakova’s interpretation, while Maxim Sukhanov played lieutenant as a fool dresses up as a guardsman. 

The youth came to the theatre just from school. In the 1980’s these were Sergey Makovetsky, Olga Chipovskaya, Aleksandr Ryshenkov, Vladimir Simonov, Mikhail Semakov, Evgeny Knyazev, Elena Sotnikova, Mikhail Vaskov, Olga Gavrilyuk and then Maksim Sukhanov, Yuliya Rutberg, Marina Yesipenko, Lydia Velezheva and Natalia Moleva.

In 1989 Gariy Chernyachovsky put the idea of his student work “Zoika’s Apartment” onstage with a slightly changed cast. This play brought Maksom Sukhanov (in the role of Ametistov) to public notice: he turned out to be a flexible, cheerful ubiquitous and vulgar chameleon. Yuliya Rutberg made an impressing debut in the character of Zoika.

In 1989 Roman Viktyuk entered the team of The Theatre. He appeared here as early as in 1983 with his staging of “Anna Karenina” by Leo Tolstoy. It was the moral aspect of the novel, not the love story that came to the fore in Viktyuk‘s interpretation. The performance stood out as a really challenging one.

1990 was the year when Roman Viktyuk staged the English melodrama “Lady without Camellias”. Lyudmila Maksakova again had the stellar role.

 “The Master’s Lessons” written by David Pawnell was one the most significant works produced by Roman Viktyuk about the Soviet history. Within the black and white space created by artist Vladimir Boer were the characters of the political farce – Stalin, Zhdanov, Prokoviev and Shostakovich. Ulyanov played Stalin undauntedly: with abrupt changes, brutality, cruelty, sensuality and tragic temper. Zhdanov was the quintessence of fulsome flattery and impudence of feeling independent, he was disingenuous and cynical in his revelations. Philipenko was so eccentric in this part: it was a figure of a demon, inquisitor with criminal ambitions. Prokofiev as acted by Yakovlev personified fear and, as the critic Svobodin noticed, endeavour to retain dignity of the representative of the intelligenzia even when it was impossible. Shostakovich in Makovetsky’s interpretation seemed extremely young. This part turned out to be the breakthrough for the young actor, although he had worked in The Theatre before.

Roman Viktyuk staged the most democratic performance at The Vakhtangov Theatre (just before leaving it) where he expressed his admiration for the art – that was “Darling, I Do Not Know You Anymore”. The performance demonstrated the play of such actors as Lyudmila Maksakova, Sergey Makovetsky, Yuliya Rutberg and Mariya Aronova.

In March, 1991 Arkady Katz released “The ides of March” based on Tornton Wilder’s epistolary novel. It was a story about the last days of Caesar (Ulyanov played his part). There were Yuliya Borisova, Irina Kupchenko, Marina Yesipenko and Vladimir Ivanov among the actors.

Soon after “The Ides of March” there appeared the performance directed by Pyotr Fomenko “Sire You Are Our Father…” – scenes taken from Gorenstein’s play “The Filicide” about Peter the Great. “The Trial” (1988) written by Aleksandr Sukhovo-Kobylin was the first play staged by Fomenko at The Vakhtangov Theatre. His next work – staging of Ostrovsky’s “Guilty without Guilt” became the best Moscow performance of season 1992/1993. It is still running at The Vakhtangov Theatre.

In a year the play “Dear Liar” written by Jerome Kilty went out. Yuliya Borisova had the part of Stella Patrick Campbell and Vasily Lanovoy played Bernard Shaw. Adolf Shapiro managed to make a truly good choice of space and actors. Borisova acted the way her own fate was shown through: we saw her rapacious appetites for talent, her conscious and subtle mind, bitterness about the years passing. Bernard Shaw in Lanovoy’s interpretation was not so much a brilliant writer of paradoxical mind as a man of theatre – he demonstrated mischief of an actor and stubbornness of a director, his reckless readiness to fall in love, to conceive a passion for something and appear to be defenceless.

The Theatre brought in fresh blood in the 1990s: Mariya Aronova, Yury Kraskov, Nonna Grishaeva, Anna Dubrovskaya, Oleg Makarov, Pavel Safonov, Olga Tumaykina, Aleksey Zavyalov and Oleg Lopukhov. All of them are the leading actors of The Vakhtangov Theatre today.

The last decade of Ulyanov’s work in The Theatre is mostly connected with bringing in such directors as Pyotr Fomenko (“The Queen of Spades”), Vladimir Mirzoev (“Cyrano de Bergerac”, “King Lear”, “Don Juan and Sganarelle”), Sergey Yashin (“Dedication to Eve”), Grigory Dityakovsky (“The Stag-King”), Rimas Tuminas (“The Auditor”), Aleksandr Gorban (“If you run after two hares…”), Dmitry Petrun (“Last Summer in Chulimsk”) and Mikhail Bychkov (“The Beauty Queen”).

The actors of the theatre also staged a lot: Vladimir Ivanov (“Imperial Hunt”, “Uncle’s Dream”, “Mademoiselle Nitouche”), Vyacheslav Shalevich (“Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves”), Yury Shlykov (“The Dog in the Manger”) and Pavel Safonov (“The Seagull”, “Caligula”, “Deep Blue Sea”).

On The 26th of March, 2007 Mikhail Ulyanov passed away.