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Huntly Carter Collection

The Huntly Carter Collection provides a rich photographic resource on Soviet theatre in the 1920s-30s. The collection consists of around 360 artefacts. Just over 300 are theatre related: theatrical production stills (the majority), photo-portraits of leading figures in the Soviet theatre (some autographed) and snapshots of Huntly Carter with Soviet actors and directors. The production stills cover a wide range of theatres in Moscow and Leningrad, two thirds are from the 1920s, the rest from the 1930s. They include many well-known productions, among others Meyerhold's The Magnificent Cuckold (1922), The Mandate (1925) and The Bed Bug (1929); Tairov's Machinal and Optimistic Tragedy (1933) for the Kamerny Theatre; Granovsky's Uriel Acosta and The Witch (1922) for the Moscow State Jewish Theatre; Eisenstein's Enough Stupidity in Every Wise Man (1923) and Pletnev's Lena (1921), both for the Proletkult Theatre. The remaining items in the collection are mainly snapshots of street scenes and new architecture in Soviet Russia. The collection is of interest to researchers, theatre practitioners and publishers.

Huntly Carter (1860s-1942) was a British theatre critic, journalist and lecturer who travelled extensively in the Soviet Union in the 1920s-30s. A passionate believer in the transformative role of theatre in society, he was struck by the 'new spirit' that developed in Russian theatre after the October Revolution of 1917 and became strongly sympathetic to the Soviet project that had enabled such a cultural transformation. In the UK, Carter was an energetic advocate of the Soviet avant-garde theatre, presenting it as a template for a similar revolution in the British theatre. Today there is renewed interest in Huntly Carter's life and work.

Carter's interest in avant-garde Russian theatre pre-dates the Revolution: his 1913 book The New Spirit in Drama and Art includes a chapter on Moscow, based on a visit in 1911. However, during the 1920s-30s he travelled regularly to the USSR, meeting the leading theatre directors, actors and stage designers of the day, attending the annual theatre festivals, and collecting a mass of photographs, theatrical ephemera and documentary material. He was in constant correspondence with Soviet theatre practitioners, individual theatres and cultural institutions. This all became the source material for Carter's prolific output as a writer and lecturer. His travels to Soviet Russia in the 1920s resulted in two key books: The New Theatre and Cinema of Soviet Russia (1924) and The New Spirit in the Russian Theatre (1929). These books provide an exciting sense of the revolutionary spirit of that time in the theatre, they record his meetings with actors, directors and designers, describe in detail the theatrical productions he saw, and define different stages and approaches in the development of the new Soviet theatre.

Carter was a founding member of our Society (then known as the Society for Cultural Relations with the USSR, or SCR), which was established in July 1924. He remained a member until his death in 1942, when part of his personal collection relating to the USSR (mainly photographs) was bequeathed to the Society. This bequest forms the Huntly Carter Collection in the SCRSS Photo Library. The collection is fully digitised but not yet catalogued online. In 2023 the Society will continue its review of our existing captions list against the original artefacts, and in due course plans to make this available in our online library catalogue.

For more information, see feature article Huntly Carter and the 'New Spirit' in Soviet Theatre, SCRSS Digest, Summer 2022 (Issue SD-26), pages 8-13.


Proletkult production of Ostrovsky's Enough Stupidity in Every Wise Man, recreated as a review by playwright Sergei Tretyakov and designed by Sergei Eisenstein, 1920s (Huntly Carter Collection, SCRSS Photo Library)


Meyerhold Theatre production of Sergei Tretyakov's Roar, China!, 1929 (Huntly Carter Collection, SCRSS Photo Library)


Kamerny Theatre production of Treadwell's Machinal, directed by Alexander Tairov and designed by Vadim Ryndin, 1933 (Huntly Carter Collection, SCRSS Photo Library)