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A scene from the first act of P. Malyarevsky’s play “The Little Humpbacked Horse” (based on the tale of P. Ershov) staged by the Central Children’s Theater. In the role of Ivan – O. Efremov, in the role of Tsar – A. Shchukin. Author V. Mastyukov. November 15, 1952. Main Archive of Moscow

Read about how the future creator of Sovremennik shone in the role of Ivan the Fool and learned to speak loudly in this mos.ru article.

One of the best performances of the season for the whole family – this is how the audience and critics spoke of the production of The Little Humpbacked Horse at the Central Children’s Theater in 1952. Little ones and adults were fascinated by the fabulous scenery, the easy fun that reigned on the stage, and especially the 25-year-old actor Oleg Efremov, who made everyone look differently at his rustic character.

Noble Ivan the Fool

The performance, created by Maria Knebel together with Anna Nekrasova and playwright Pavel Malyarevsky, made a splash, despite its apparent simplicity. Just like its title character – seemingly an ordinary horse, but in fact a magical one. The young composer Rodion Shchedrin drew attention to the production at that time, was inspired, and eight years later the premiere of his ballet The Little Humpbacked Horse took place on the Bolshoi stage.

Knebel gave the actors a certain freedom: they could joke, play naughty, improvise – but only within the framework of a given role. Adult spectators were impressed by the funny improvisations, and the little ones were impressed by the funny fake horses on the stage. Critics, however, found in the production a similarity to the performances that were staged by buffoons in the old days – they also had enough invented jokes and amusing props on the go.

Ivan the Fool performed by Oleg Efremov especially shone on stage. The future creator of Sovremennik was 25 at that time. He captivated the audience with his game and the ability to give the character a special charm. He succeeded in ennobling Ivanushka, and the image of the village simpleton began to play with new colors: he looked not at all a fool, but quite a pleasant, intelligent and kind young man, capable of falling in love with himself at first sight. As soon as Ivanushka appeared on the stage in her light shirt and smiled, everyone looked only at him. Young Muscovites came to the children’s performance again and again to see the charming artist.

Dreams of the Moscow Art Theater

And the artist Efremov then thought only about work – he honed his professional skills, diligently getting rid of shortcomings. Somehow they pointed out to him that his voice was too quiet: the actor spoke on the stage in such a way that he could hardly be heard in the back rows. Efremov was looking for a balance of loudness for a long time, trying to speak clearly, but not shout at the same time.

From an early age, he dreamed of the Moscow Art Theater, but he was not taken there even after graduating from the Moscow Art Theater School, during which he easily bypassed numerous competitors. When he was denied the theater of his dreams, he got a job at the Central Children’s Theater, where Maria Knebel, the chief director, – ironically, a former artist of the Khudozhestvenny troupe, drew attention to him. This was in 1949.

At the Central Children’s Theater, the actor was immediately given the main role in the play “Her Friends” based on the play by Viktor Rozov – in the future he will become the favorite playwright of Oleg Efremov. Before “The Little Humpbacked Horse”, he played in the performances “Dubrovsky”, “Minor”, “Woe from Wit”, “Two Captains” and others. Efremov was rightfully called one of the most talented theater artists.

From CDT to RAMT

By the time of the premiere of the play The Little Humpbacked Horse, the Central Children’s Theater had only been named after 16 years – before that it had been the Moscow Children’s Theater. It was opened in 1921. Its creator, actress and director Natalia Sats was then not much older than her young viewers – she was about 18 years old. And she took up educational work as a teenager – since 1918, Natalia Sats was in charge of the children’s sector of the theatrical and musical section of the Moscow City Council.

Her father was the composer Ilya Sats, the creator of the music for the legendary production of the Moscow Art Theater “Blue Bird” (1908). Natalia Ilyinichna, who grew up in an atmosphere of music and creativity, was amazed that there is no separate children’s theater in Moscow. She had to go through many obstacles to achieve the opening of the Moscow Theater for Children – at that time it was believed that there was only discomfort from young spectators in the hall.

At first, the theater did not even have its own premises. Only later did Sats find the abandoned building of the Ars cinema at the corner of Tverskaya and Mamonovsky lane. After much persuasion, the Moscow City Council handed it over to a new theater, albeit with the condition to rent the premises for film screenings in the evenings, so that it would be profitable.

Natalia Sats was the artistic director and director of the Moscow Theater until 1937, when Natalia Ilyinichna was arrested as a member of the family of an enemy of the people. After exile, she went to Alma-Ata, where she opened the Theater of the Young Spectator (now the State Academic Russian Theater for Children and Youth named after Natalia Sats). Returning to Moscow in 1958, she again took up what she loved. In 1964, she opened the world’s first children’s musical theater – the Moscow State Academic Children’s Musical Theater named after N.I. Sats.

Her first brainchild, meanwhile, continued to live under a new name – the Central Children’s Theater. During the Great Patriotic War, the Central Children’s Theater was evacuated to Kuzbass, the artists showed performances on military themes. He returned to the capital in 1943, at the same time a studio school was opened under him, in which teachers from the Moscow Art Theater taught. Maria Knebel came here in 1950, a little later she became the head of the theater. Her most striking works, not counting The Humpbacked Horse, are Children of the Sun by Maxim Gorky, Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens, The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov. Knebel said: the most important thing for her is to see what atmosphere the actor himself creates and how he transforms into his hero, while remaining himself at the same time. This attracted her to Oleg Efremov.

It became the Russian Academic Youth Theater (RAMT) in 1992 under the artistic director Alexei Borodin.

Pushkin’s help

Peter Ershov wrote his famous fairy tale in 1834. The author was inspired by the playful works of Pushkin. The first lines of The Little Humpbacked Horse, by the way, were edited by Aleksandr Sergeevich himself – he really liked both the idea and the execution. Pyotr Pavlovich said that a folk tale, Siberian, and all that he did was to bring it into its proper form. He also used elements from other tales – about Sivka-Burka, the Firebird and others.

In the late 1990s, some literary critics believed that Pushkin wrote The Little Humpbacked Horse in its entirety, but donated the authorship of the tale to a 19-year-old student, not wanting to share the royalties with his wife. The arguments were as follows: firstly, the poetic size of the work is very similar to “The Tale of Tsar Saltan”, and secondly, Ershov never wrote anything even remotely similar in his life.

The Little Humpbacked Horse was censored several times during the author’s lifetime. In 1843, the fairy tale was banned – considered disrespectful towards the authorities and the church – and forgotten about it for a long time. A new, revised edition was published in 1856, but they also saw something unworthy in it. The next revision is in 1861. In total, until 1917, the tale was reprinted 26 times. She got on the pencil and the Soviet censors – in 1922 and 1934.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is a translation. Apologies should the grammar and or sentence structure not be perfect.

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