Ivanov – Young Chekhov Season at the National Theatre
Anton Chekhov’s plays consist of so many nuances, so many wildly changing moods that it’s rare to encounter a production that captures them all. In this respect, David Hare’s Ivanov is a success. It showcases all the humour (of which there is no shortage), the loaded glances and the weighty moments of the 130-year old text.
On the National Theatre’s Three Play Day, Chekhov enthusiasts can fill their boots with the work of the late great Russian, beginning with Platonov and finishing on The Seagull. Sandwiched as it is between the others, Ivanov makes its mark nonetheless with its sharp character observation, distinctive humour and descent into tragedy.
Our protagonist, the titular Ivanov, is a potent mix of manic depressive and gargantuan ego. His every moment on stage is marked by tortuous soliloquies on his condition. Awareness of his unworthiness, however, never prompts him into an attempt at self-improvement, and he goes on poisoning the lives of those around him with grim resignation. The beautiful young Sasha implores him to see that he is a guiltless and virtuous man, while the self-righteous Doctor Lvov pulls him in the other direction, demanding that he be accountable for his selfishness.
Geoffrey Streatfeild’s Ivanov is a believable wretch who you’ll hate or pity vehemently. It’s the tremolo in his voice and his hunched stance that give such a vivid picture of a man pained by introspection. Pete Egan deserves special mention for his turn as Count Matvyei Shabyelski. Twinkly-eyed and with a booming voice that was made for theatre, he brings an upbeat humour to the play.
Tom Pye’s sprawling set elegantly complements Chekhov’s naturalistic style. A real body of water creates a stream around the stage’s edge and lush reeds grow below towering wintry trees beset with low mist. Such detailed aesthetics do justice to the playwright’s overlapping conversations and meandering dialogue, giving rise to a fully-formed, authentic world.
It’s not all drawing room pilosophising either: we get to see “Chekhov’s Gun” (a phrase coined in honour of the man himself) in action.
Photo: Johan Persson
Ivanov is on at the Olivier Theatre at the National Theatre from 3rd August until 8th October 2016. Book your tickets here.