“People think there’s something deep about despair. But there isn’t”
With Platonov failing to even make it onto the stage in his lifetime, Ivanov came to be Chekhov’s professional debut as a playwright. As such, it bears many of the hallmarks of a writer still coming into his strengths – having identified what he wants to say to the world, he’s still working out the most devastatingly effective way of doing it. The first time I saw Ivanov has the distinction of being one of the first times I ever really enjoyed a Chekhov play, seduced as I was by Kenneth Branagh’s portrayal for the Donmar in the West End (which also had a little known actor called Tom Hiddleston in it…),
I’d be lying if I said I could remember enough about Tom Stoppard’s version to compare and contrast with David Hare’s new adaptation here, but Geoffrey Streatfeild’s interpretation of the title character does feel a little less of an outright cock. Don’t get me wrong he’s still a Grade-A tool (misogynist, anti-Semitic, serial cheat) and ‘mid-life crisis’ remains the pathetic catch-all excuse it ever has done, but there’s a real sense of the depths of the black clouds of depression that lie over this Ivanov and the social pressures that has put him under that offer at least a little insight, if not outright sympathy, for his situation.
Nina Sosanya is brilliant once again as another character called Anna Petrovna, the wife abused so wrongly by Ivanov and Olivia Vinall, as the woman who inexplicably throws herself at him is touching. One thing I do remember is Ivanov having a surfeit of strong supporting roles and with this quality ensemble, they all stand out- James McArdle’s malevolent doctor, Beverley Klein’s interfering friend, and Peter Egan and Jonathan Coy as relatives left to watch from the sidelines at the self-destructive behaviour of Streatfeild’s protagonist – the car crash you can’t take your eyes off, the dramatist you know can only further improve.