Ivanov - Young Chekhov Season

Anton Chekhov, in a new version by David Hare

National Theatre

Olivier Theatre

From 14 July 2016 to 08 October 2016

Review by Philip Fisher

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To describe Geoffrey Streatfeild's Ivanov as a tortured soul doesn't tell the half of it. This spiritual second cousin to Platonov has many similarities but misses out on the latter's sense of humour.

The play broadly contains two classes of character. Drunken bores (in a "house of reptiles") and angst-ridden seekers after elusive meaning. The single exception is Nina Sosanya as Ivanov's altruistic and painfully good wife, Anna Petrovna (a name already used by the same actress for a very different character in Platonov!). Sadly, she has tuberculosis and is doomed.

Where many husbands would be supportive and grieving, the frequently self-hating but determinedly egotistical anti-hero of this play starts a dalliance with Olivia Vinall's Sasha.

Her motives are questioned and the consequences are not good for anyone, though the humourless doctor ensures that guilt is never far from the relationship.

Sasha also comes with a dowry, much-needed since Ivanov has no money but too many dependents. She also brings to the party parents to remember, Jonathan Coy makes sottish Lebedev surprisingly sympathetic, while his wife Debra Gillett's Zinaida is a comically greedy horror.

The general consensus of Ivanov and his circle is that the man is immoral, introspective and at times inscrutable. On several occasions, this man whom "nobody understands" is compared to Hamlet, though is a poor imitation of that theatrical role model.

In any event, his tortured soul is investigated in considerable depth through the 2¾ hours, by the end of which self-realisation finally arrives but at a considerable cost.