Ivanov at the Barbican
Ivanov was Chekhov’s first full-length play. Fittingly, it was commissioned for and had its world premiere at the Korsh Theatre, which is now the home of Theatre of Nations. The renowned Russian company are in London for one week, hosted by the Barbican for the first time.
With a dying wife, financial debt and the temptation to betray his marriage vows, office worker Ivanov is experiencing an intense period of self-loathing and personal crisis. Feeling his life has spiralled out of control, can he find an escape from his torment?
Artistic director Evgeny Mironov, writing on the company’s website, describes how in his time Chekhov was able to capture so accurately the inner world of a person, without putting the heroes of his works in extreme situations but instead focusing on the more routine elements of their everyday life. Forming a strong and creative working rapport with the famous theatre practitioner Stanislavski, who pioneered the concept of Naturalism in drama, the playwright introduced a completely new style of theatre that heavily influenced what we are accustomed to today in terms of realism.
Ivanov is performed here in Russian with English subtitles, and it’s rare for Londoners to be treated to such an authentic rendition of a Chekhov play. Although the subtitles take some getting used to and feel somewhat of a novelty at first, it certainly makes for a unique theatrical experience.
Director Timofey Kulyabin transfers the action of the play, which was written in 1887, to the present day. It’s a bold move that only serves to exemplify how ahead of his time the playwright was, his themes and ideas remaining relevant today. That said, it does feel a little like we’re being put under a false pretence. With Oleg Golovko’s contemporary costumes and modern set, which changes for each of the four acts, we almost expect a more pacey production, which would have been welcome. At three hours, one can’t help but feel certain scenes could have been trimmed or perhaps even cut altogether without losing a sense of the story and the messages the play conveys. The fact that the majority of the audience have to divide their attention between reading the subtitles and absorbing the action also contributes to a somewhat sluggish pace at times, the Act 2 party scene and climax of the drama being exceptions.
There are some perfectly timed moments of comic relief and we are presented with richly textured characters, courtesy of Chekhov’s writing, but also the high quality of acting on display. Evgeny Mironov as the title character captures a man in utter turmoil and is incredibly convincing. His relationship with wife Anna (Chulpan Khamatova) is again believable with some heart-wrenching scenes shared between the two. Mironov has strong chemistry with future fiancée Sasha, played beautifully by Elizaveta Boyarskaya. The remaining ensemble offer solid support with Alexander Novin, Dmitry Serdyuk and Natalya Pavlenkova all delivering impressive performances.
It’s astounding that this play still feels relatable all these years after its inception and it’s a pleasure to be reminded of Chekhov’s mastery of character and dialogue. This feels like a very loyal and respectful revival of a classic, exquisitely performed and directed with affection.
Photo: Sergey Petrov
Ivanov is at the Barbican from 11th until 12th October 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.