Guide to Russian Theatre in St Petersburg
It will come as no surprise that St Petersburg, as Russia’s cultural capital, is brimming with theatres. With such a rich creative history, it would be impossible for there not to be so many. Worldwide, Russia is infamous for the quality of its ballet, which is a must-see for every tourist, but a lesser known fact for non-Russianists is that it is was also the breeding ground for modern theatre as we know it today. Born out of the tradition of Chekhov and Stanislavsky, Russian directors, actors and audiences remain very loyal to psychological drama and classical theatre. So, whether you are a beginner looking for ballet and opera or an advanced speaker looking for classic Russian drama, St Petersburg’s array of theatres is sure to fulfil your needs. But be sure to get your tickets quick before the theatres close their doors for the summer break!
Suitable for non-speakers of Russian:
Mariinsky Theatre / Мариинский театр
The ballet or opera at the Mariinsky Theatre on Theatre Square is compulsory viewing for any visitor to St Petersburg. Founded in 1860, the Mariinsky boasts 2 massive stages and a full programme of classical ballet and opera. I, myself, have a very fond memory of seeing my first ballet “Swan Lake”/ “Лебеденое озеро” in the Mariinsky Theatre during the White Nights festival. With a constant flow of the best graduates from the nearby Music and Ballet Conservatory, the Mariinsky stages only productions of the highest level.
Alexandrinsky Theatre / Александринский театр
Boasting over 260 years of history, the Alexandrinksy Theatre is even older than the Mariinsky and offers a diverse range of productions. Not only can you see classical ballet, but the theatre recently opened a stage where you can see some of the hottest new plays from up-and-coming writers and directors. The Alexandrinsky is one of the most central theatres, tucked behind the Nevsky Prospect on Ostrovskogo Square.
Mikhailovsky Theatre / Михайловский театр
In the lavish setting of the Arts square, the Mikhailovsky theatre has an exquisite repertoire of classic opera and ballet much like the Mariinsky theatre. You may have even already heard of this one! The troupe of the Mikhailovksy theatre tours all around the world and has built an impressive international reputation. The Mikhailovsky theatre is particularly tourist-friendly and easy to find.
Knowledge of Russian essential:
БДТ / Большой Драматический театр
Located on the Fontanka River, the Big Dramatic Theatre stages a mix of classics and new theatre. The theatre has a particularly strong programme of adaptations from classic literature including the mighty feat that is War & Peace! Go here for a quick dose of classic Russian prose exquisitely staged in a more digestible form!
Lensovet Theatre / Театр имени Ленсовета
Lensovet is the place to go for slightly unconventional productions of classic foreign and Russian theatre. This theatre, however, is not for the faint-hearted. A recent staging of Hamlet lasted 4 hours long, so you’ll really need to know your Russian to survive the productions here!
Masterskaya Theatre / Санкт- Петербургский театр Мастерская
Masterskaya is a hidden gem in St Petersburg, but you’ll have to venture a little way out of the city-centre to get there. Productions feature recent graduates from the city’s prestigious Russian State Institute of Performing Arts (РГИСИ) and are usually adaptations from classic Russian literature or plays from more recent Soviet playwrights.