By Anton Chekhov
Version by David Hare
Directed by Jonathan Kent
Set design by Tom Pye
The Young Chekhov Season (3 in a day)
Chichester Festival Theatre
10th October 2015 3.00 pm
SEE ALSO: Young Chekhov Season Overview (linked)
and the other two plays in the series:
Cast (with added detail from script):
Samuel West as Ivanov, landowner and regional councillor
Des McAleer as Borkin, steward of Ivanov’s estate
Nina Sosanya as Ivanov’s wife, Anna Petrovna, nee Sarah Abramson
Peter Egan as Count Shabyelski, Ivanov’s uncle
James McArdle as Yvgeni Lvov, a young country doctor
Jonathan Coy as Pavel Lebedev , chairman of local council
Lucy Briers as Zinaida, wife to Pavel Lebedev
Olivia Vinall as Sasha, daughter to the Lebedevs
Emma Amos as Marfusha Babakina, young widow and heiress
Beverley Klein as Avdotya, an older rich woman
Brian Pettifer as Kosych, an excise officer
Mark Penfold as Gavrila, servant to the Lebedevs
Mark Donald as ensemble
Col Farrell as First Guest
David Verrey as third guest
Nebli Bassani as Pyotr / guest
Ivanov was Chekhov’s first performed play in 1887. He hated the first production and revised it heavily.
Ivanov was part of the classic Michael Grandage season in 2008, with Kenneth Branagh in the lead role as Ivanov, and Tom Hiddlestone as Dr Lvov and Andrea Risborough as Sasha, turning my doubts about Chekhov on their head. The script adaptation was by Tom Stoppard on that one, and Lucy Briers was in the Stoppard and this production too. Concentration was difficult back in 2008 at Wyndham’s Theatre with Nicole Kidman seated directly in front of me in the audience. It was rated as a five star production by most critics at the time, picked up both Best Actor and Best Director awards, and unfortunately predates this blog.
David Hare’s version dates from 1997, so is earlier. At Chichster we have Samuel West as Ivanov, with James McArdle as Dr Lvov. After his wild piratical role as Platonov, we didn’t even recognize McArdle with slicked down black hair, dark suit and moralizing, priggish demeanour. It was only a few sentences in that we recognized his voice and accent. It was a total contrast, and fine acting … and after all, the similarities between the plays are such that you need a change … Chekhov even carried over the name Anna Petrovna, with Nina Sosanya conveniently playing both Annas. These are ensemble pieces, the three of them, so part of the interest is watching people change roles.
Act one takes place on the open air set utilising the house off to one side. Ivanov is in financial straits, his estate run by Borkin, a man with an eye on capitalism if ever there was one. Ivanov is heavily in debt, as Russian landowners are in the theatre, this time to the rich Lebedevs. Sasha, their daughter is infatuated with Ivanov, and plans to marry him once he’s a widower, as he will be soon. His wife, Anna, is dying of tuberculosis, and the signature ineffectual doctor has no cure. Chekhov studied medicine, and had TB himself. Doctor Lvov berates Ivanov and advises him to send Anna to the Crimea to recuperate … just as Chekhov himself went to Yalta in the Crimea because of his TB, but Ivanov is either too poor or too mean to pay for her trip. At the end of Act One he sets off for the Lebedevs for a party. Anna and Lvov secretly follow.
L to R: Emma Amos (Marfusha), Peter Egan (Count Shabyelski) & Lucy Briars (Zinaida)
Act two has the rising set sliding into place, and we’re in the salon at the Lebedev’s house. The party involves vodka being tossed down in alarming quantities, and we felt how much better fake vodka in shot glasses must be than the pints of fake beer the cast had to sink in recent productions of Hangmen and Flare Path (both reviewed here). The party is lively … Emma Amos is a delightfully sexy and cheerful widow, who might be in black, but the neckline plunges.
We discover that Anna, importantly is Jewish, and renounced her religion and her parents to marry Ivanov. That was a bad financial move as Ivanov, they say, married her for her dowry, which was not forthcoming when she converted to Christianity and changed her name. Ivanov and Sasha get closer and finally go into the full snog … just as Anna walks through the door. The Interval!
Lebedev (Jonathan Coy), Count Shabyelski (Peter Egan), Borkin (Des McAleer)
Act Two’s tone, with considerable comedy, changes. In Act Three Mr Lebedev tries to get Ivanov to repay Mrs Lebedev (who handles the money) … he even offers Ivanov money from his own pocket to facilitate this. There are a lot of philosophical monologues in Act Three. Things are coming to a head over Anna and Sasha. In a shocking climax, Ivanov calls her ‘You dirty Jew’ then compounds it by adding, ‘You are going to die. I have spoken to the doctor. You are going to die very soon.’
Act Four is a year later. Anna is dead, and Ivanov and Sasha’s wedding is about to take place. Dr Lvov turns up and accuses Ivanov of going for another dowry. Everyone blames Lvov and he is challenged to duels, then Ivanov gets hold of a revolver and another Chehovian gunshot ends the play.
Samuel West is particularly good at the long speeches. Olivia Vinall, as Sasha, finds herself in much the same position as in Platonov as she will again in The Seagull. I can’t compare it to the Branagh production this many years afterwards, but I know that was a definite ‘5 star’ while I’d rate this as less than Platonov. Maybe it’s middle play of the three lag affecting us.