I have been reading some of Maurice Maeterlinck‘s early short plays in translations by Francis Booth. Maeterlinck refers to these works as his Marionette Plays. He wanted an unemotional style of presentation that he thought would only be achievable by using puppets. Given these reservations, it’s interesting that Konstantin Stanislavski was an early director of his work.

Stanislavski thought that Symbolist work would shake up the Moscow Art Theatre‘s repertoire and so directed The Blind at the theatre. His actors, it seems,were unable to shake off their naturalistic acting styles developed through the company’s work with Chekhov’s plays. The production was regarded as something of a failure.

Stanislavski, anxious to avoid stagnancy in the theatre’s style and repertoire, created the MAT Studio and asked Meyerhold to work on Maeterlinck’s The Death of Tintagiles there. Meyerhold’s view of drama seems to chime much more closely with that of Maeterlinck. The work was certainly radical but Stanislavski pulled the production during final rehearsals. Meyerhold later mounted a production of an amended version of the play with his own company.1

I’m ashamed to say that I’ve never read any of Maeterlinck’s work before, despite having taught students about the work of Meyerhold.

The Blind is easy to stage in your mind as you read it. It’s dark and funny and the action keeps moving. I can see how the author desire for a cool, emotionless presentation could be undermined by actors falling back on a more emotive, naturalistic acting style.

The Death of Tintagiles is darker still and much more stylised. It’s a short, five act (!) play. I found it much more difficult to imagine it working ‘on its feet’. I’m going to have to read it again.

Interior is, like The Blind, in continuous action. This helps the flow of the piece as a corpse is carried on its relentless journey from the riverbank to the house.

Maeterlinck held that we are powerless against fate and the approach of death. In each of these plays death is in the room and getting closer. But why would we sit and watch that? What does he do that makes this not just depressing, but intriguing? I suppose it’s the struggle to fight, delay or ignore the inevitable that makes it bearable. He may think that the struggle is pointless, but it’s what gives us a connection to the action.

1 All this information from here: There is an amazing video of Stanislavski and Olga Knipper acting in The Cherry Orchard on the home page.