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The beginning of Lviv (Artem’s) Street at the beginning of the 20th  century. Кiev.
Saturday, 24 August 2019

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Must-see in Ukraine > The building of the National Academic Ivan Franko Drama Theatre

Mikhail Kalnitskiy - historian   

Special for Prime excursion burau ltd.  

  The building of the National Academic Ivan Franko Drama Theatre is in the same name square near Khreshchatyk. Not long ago it turned 111 years old, which is  quite an age for buildings of old Kyiv. But intense historical  memory and great significance for development of theatrical art in Ukraine makes the theatre building in Ivan Franko square one of the most interesting Kyiv relics.

As far back as the end of the 19th century the site of the present square was the grounds under a steep hill of Bankova St. with hot and green houses and a big pond which in the winter time became a skating rink, very popular among Kyivans. 

The building of the Ivan Franko Drama Theatre nowadays

 

 It was part of the so-called Mering’s estate which belonged to the famous Kyiv doctor, professor Fedir Mering.

When he died in 1887 his descendents decided to sell a vast estate in the city centre to the especially established in 1895 joint stock building company whose head became professor Mering’s son Michael.

During 1895-1896 the company coordinated with the local authorities a layout of four streets and one square on the estate grounds. The square on the site of the pond was called in honour of the ruling monarch Nicholas the 2nd – Mykolayivska.
 

 

 Mering’s estate. Photo of the 1880s.

George Schleifer  Mykola Solovtsov Edward Bradtman

 

Unfortunately Solovtsov died early and his widow, the actress Mariya Glebova-Fedorova worked as an impresario until 1905, then – the other theatre figures. Among  favourite actors with the Kyiv public was Yevhen Nedelin who was considered the best in Russia as a performer of the part of Napoleon.    
                      Solovtsov’s Theatre. Postcard about 1900

 

 
Yevhen Nedelin in the part of Napoleon   Actress Olena Polevytska

At The Solovtsov theatre were regularly arranged tours of renowned theatres such as the Moscow Artistic Theatre led by Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko. During the Kyiv tour in 1900 there performed the brilliant ballerina Anna Pavlova.
In 1902 the theatre building was bought by the sugar tycoon Lev Brodsky who received rent from impresarios. 

In the square in front of the theatre was installed the series cast-iron fountain (1900-1901) around which a small park was laid out. The theatre and the park formed a composition.

Solovtsov Theatre and the park in Mykolayivska Square. Postcard of about 1910.  

The theatre was nationalized by the Soviet power in 1918 being converted to The Second Theatre of the Ukrainian Soviet Republic named after V. Lenin. The core of the troupe were Solovtsov’s  actors.

 
Konstantin Mardzhanov (Mardzhanishvili) – the renowned director   Vera Yureneva as Laurencia in Lope de Vega’s (Fuente Ovekhuna (The Sheep’s Well).

Because of the further political instability the troupe gradually broke up.
For some time in the season of 1925-1926 there was the Berezil theatre troupe there led by the outstanding actor and director Les Kurbas. But in 1926 the Berezil theatre moved to the then capital of Ukraine - Kharkiv. Instead to Kyiv came the Ivan Franko Ukrainian Drama Theatre where it has been in the building until now.

 
The I.Franko Theatre. Foto made in the end of  the 1920s   Natalia Uzhviy  in the performance “Snowball-tree Grove

During WWII the theatre was  in evacuation. First in Russia, then in Central Asia, Tashkent.
In the meantime in Septemder 1941 the main street Khreshchatyk suffered from a series of explosions that destroyed nearby central streets as well.

There is a belief that the theatre was supposed to be destroyed but the destruction was prevented by the deed of the old worker of the theatre Tadey Mohyla. He saw that the building had been mined and at night he secretly cut the wire.

 
Amvrosiy Buchma in Makar Dibrova   Mykola Yakovchenko

Extremely popular with the theatre viewers was the brilliant comedian Mykola Yakovchenko.
Even today, long after his death, there circulate jokes and relations about his wittiness and addiction to alcohol…

In the latest period is established The Theatre in the Foyer. 

Commemorative plaque in honour of Hnat Yury Commemorative plaque in honour of D. Milyutenko Monument to Mykola Yakovchenko

On October 11, 1994 the theatre received the status of the National one. The present generation of actors whose brilliant representatives are Bohdan Stupka (an actor and a chief director), Nataliya Sumska, Anatoliy Khostikoyev and others are worthy followers of their predecessors.

The actor and the performer of his own songs Alexander Vertinsky, whose childhood and youth were spent in Kyiv, recalled about significant influence of this theatre onto young people noting how young students were waiting for  actors coming out of the theatre and how they seemed to them half-Gods.  
And in memoirs of another famous Kyiv boy the writer Konstantin Paustovsky it is mentioned how they, students, were waiting for the charming actress Polevitska to carry her in their arms after a performance finished.

But shortly afterwards another impresario took over – M. Solovtsov who in 1891 in Kyiv founded the first stationary Russian drama theatre.

With some complications related to underground waters and complex drainage the theatre was built and consacrated in October 1898 in presence of governor general Dragomirov.

It must be admitted that building the theatre they sought to economize funds: they, for instance, refused a magnificent front staircase. The facades were executed in the neo-Greek style; and even though exteriors were not too grandiose, as contemporaries  noted, interiors were admirable.

According to the concept of the impresario of the burnt theatre  Palmira Setova-Setgofer the stalls could be converted to the circus arena. Such concept was most likely connected with Mrs. Setova’s past as a circus rider.

It was there that the Company decided to build for their own money a new theatre building since there was a lack of such buildings due to the 1896 fire of the City Municipal Theatre and in the same year the construction started after the design of the renowned Kyiv architects George Schleifer and Edward Bradtman.