Ivanov

Anton Chekhov, in a new version by David Haorrower

RNT Cottesloe

(2002)

Review by Philip Fisher

Katie Mitchell's production of Scottish playwright David Harrower's new version of Ivanov is beautifully staged. The Cottesloe has been converted into a short traverse which creates an intimate and intrusive effect. It is bad enough for an innocent audience member to feel him or herself in the midst of domestic strife. It is far worse when it is possible to see several hundred other people observing as well.

Ivanov, as portrayed by Owen Teale, is not (unlike his parallel, Platonov) a wholly dissolute man. His problem is a combination of boredom and what seems to be clinical depression. While he may go out every night leaving his dying wife with his impecunious uncle (played by Philip Voss), he doesn't seem to derive much pleasure from doing so.

He has also managed to get himself a terrible reputation in the enclosed community. He is accused of marrying Anna (or Sara), a Jewess (poignantly played by Juliet Aubrey), for her inheritance. While he treats her very badly, this seems more a product of madness than greed. Various other accusations attach to him but none seems justified.

This is even more unreasonable as his accusers (who tend to be rather caricatured) are hardly virtuous. There is a doctor who loves Anna and hates Ivanov to distraction. Worse, his uncle and a lady Babakina who will exchange the wealth of one for the title of the other and Sasha's parents, a drunk and a miser.

When the beautiful, rich Sasha, nicely played by Indira Varma, propositions him, his reaction is unenthusiastic. A year later, when he has the chance to gain happiness even this is too much.

This early play of Chekhov's is not his best but is interesting as an indication and illumination of what was to come. Katie Mitchell's production is at its best when it concentrates on the workings of the anti-hero's mind and his unsatisfactory relationships with Anna and Sasha.