Pros: Performances by both Alexander Neal as Ivanov and David Weinberg as Lebedev were fantastic, and made for incredibly watchable dialogue.
Cons: The minimal set design did not contribute to the ambience or mood, and so it was a play without a strong visual identity; but then maybe that was the point…
As an established part of the theatrical canon in Britain as much as in Russia, Chekhov’s plays draw audiences time and time again when they are produced. I won’t explore why right now – this is a review of a specific production – but when it comes to Theatro Technis’ recent revival of Ivanov, theatregoers have good reason to flock to the box office beyond the isolated literary merits of the play.
A summary of the plot for those who are unfamiliar; Ivanov tells the story of a Russian man in dire financial straits, out of love with his wife, but more essentially out of love with life itself. His wife Anna is seriously unwell, and in avoidance of his husbandly duties towards her, Ivanov draws away from their home towards other members of the community. Nevertheless, he cannot seem to find solace anywhere, in anyone.
The second scene of the play takes place in the home of one of the wealthier families of this community – the Lebedev’s – on the occasion of their daughter Sasha’s birthday. It was in this scene that the play really took off for me, as the direction and movement of the characters displayed their intellectual and physical restlessness to great dramatic effect. Rather than a party, the gathering resembled more a domestic prison; I could feel their underlying boredom, their disappointment, their utter desperation for entertainment and distraction. In their gossiping, drinking and game playing these somewhat secondary characters echoed the searching despair of the protagonist, who likewise grapples with the banality of life, albeit in a different but equally engaging way for the audience.
The various guests of the Lebedev’s provided both humour and interest. Through the powerful and considered delivery of their lines they managed to give the impression of a fight – they were all vying for life, fighting for air, fighting for meaning, for space on the stage. Though at times they stood or sat in relative stillness, thanks to clever staging latent desires and regrets felt palpable. The play lasted two hours and it flew by!
Initially and throughout the play I was struck by the simplicity of the set. Without the detail of furnishings, drapery, or domestic paraphernalia, the space felt rather bare and cold; in the first act it lacked ambience as a result. In hindsight however, I wonder if the economy of the set design contributed to, and maybe even provided for, the intensity of the cast’s performances. Their voices carried through the empty auditorium uninterrupted by design; the words were given not just time but space to reach the audience. I don’t think I’ve ever paid so much attention to the lines of every individual character, but I did so instinctively because the actors demanded it through their controlled pace and occasional direct delivery. Sometimes it makes me uncomfortable when an actor looks me in the eye (or the knee), but on this occasion the various instances of monologue felt utterly natural, and revealed what was utterly necessary.
Alexander Neal played a marvellous Ivanov, whose despair grew steadily and insidiously across each act. Towards the crescendo of the drama his pain and hopelessness erupted like a volcano; it was a pretty moving and insightful picture of what contemporary society might call severe depression. The lost look in Neal’s eyes showed how truly out of reach from the other characters he had become.
If you’ve never seen Chekhov before, or if you’ve seen his plays a dozen times, go to see this production for drama, love, misery, and passion!
Author: Anton Chekhov
Director: Gavin McAlinden
Booking Until: 23rd November 2013.
Box Office: 07572 283382
Booking Link: http://www.theatrotechnis.com/