19 July 2016

Ivanov at the National Theatre

Sometimes deciding to see a play is easy, but rarely as easy as this.

There are four playwrights that I have Google Alerts set up for an Chekhov is one of them. These adaptations are by David Hare who has possibly been the biggest playwright in the UK for the last few decades.  They were staged at the Nation Theatre that has the infrastructure, and budget, to stage large productions.

I had thought about going down to Chichester to see the plays when they were first staged there last year but I was too disorganised to book tickets in time. I was not that worried as a London transfer seemed certain.

There were three plays in the season, Ivanov which I had not seen before and The Seagull and Platonov both of which I had only seen once. I was half tempted to go for the three plays in a day option but decided that would risk the three plays blurring into one. Obviously, That was not a problem when I saw Henry IV Parts I and II in a Shakespeare marathon.

My seat for Ivonov was Olivier Circle A23 for which I paid £32. I do not recall now if this was a preview price but it could have been as this was the first performance, a sign of how keen I was to see it.

The stage was superb and the photo does not do it justice as it is hard to make out the water flowing around the front of the stage and it does not show how parts of the stage went up and down to provide and remove props that transformed the stage, for example, from a garden to a dining room.

The central plot of Ivonov was simple enough. Nikolai Ivonov is a junior governor official fed up with his prospects and his wife of five years who he had fallen out of love with. She was ill with tuberculosis which increased his guilt. He spent most evening with his friend Paul Lebedev who hates his own wife, Zinaida, with a barely concealed passion. They had a twenty year old daughter, Sasha, who is infatuated with Ivanov and, understandably, he is interested in her too. Things developed from there.

I had not seen Ivanov before so could not tell how much was Chekhov and how much was Hare but the combination worked. The dialogue flowed briskly and smartly with a contemporary but not overly modern lilt. That dialogue took as deep into love, misery, power, deceit and bigotry (Ivanov's wife was a converted Jew). It was heady stuff with a few light touches added, as in Dickens some of the supporting characters were frivolous, which stopped the mood from getting too melancholy.

It was a large and top quality cast which included the magnificent Nina Sosanya as Ivanov's wife and the endearing Peter Egan as a bumbling uncle of Ivanov. There were some sixteen people in the cast and they all performed magnificently. The stage played its part too by being clever but not distractingly so. Likewise the lighting.

The whole production was professional without being cold, far from it actually. That left the play with plenty of space to breathe and to do what it wanted to do which was to emerge us deeply into the lives of a group of friends as they lived through some momentous events. It was enthralling to witness.

This may have been billed as an early Chekhov but it was very familiar Chekhov and that was what I was hoping to see.

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