The Maly Drama Theatre was created in 1944 in Leningrad, at a time when most theatres had been evacuated from the city. Founded by decision of the Oblast Executive Committee, the theatre had neither a clear artistic program, nor its own building. The small company performed in towns and villages of the Leningrad Oblast. From time to time interesting plays were staged, but the theatre was still little-known in the city.

In 1973 Efim Padve, a student of Tovstonogov, was invited to serve as chief director. He later attracted well-known playwrights and young directors, one of whom was Lev Dodin. Soon the theatre gained popularity in the city and found its viewers.

Lev Dodin's first work staged at the Maly Drama Theatre was The Robber by Karel Chapek, in 1975. The performance was immediately noticed by the public and critics thanks to his original approach and stage idiom. Other performances followed: The Rose Tattoo by Tennessee Williams (1977), Live and Remember by Valentin Rasputin (1979), and The Appointment by A. Volodin (1979).