Ivanov, part of Young Chekhov at the National Theatre, London.
Chekhov with a hangover. That’s one that could go either way really isn’t it? Either perfectly in tune with the despair induced by over-indulgence, or just too existentially crushing. I have to admit that the only reason I hauled myself into London for this was that the ticket was too damn expensive to waste. But I was so glad I did. What a hangover cure.
The main reason for this is Geoffrey Streatfeild’s performance in the title role. What is it that tips an actor from being just good into something mesmerising? Is it just an extra helping of talent or some weird kind of charisma? Whatever it is, I reckon he’s got it. I suspected it after seeing him in last year’s The Beaux Stratagem, (see here) but this performance confirmed it.
Just as you can’t have Hamlet without the prince, this play stands or falls on its central performance, and Streatfeild’s is a tour de force. His Ivanov is a man suffering not from the self-indulgent Russian melancholy that Chekhov characters are sometimes accused of possessing, but a deep and genuine depression, with all the paralysis interspersed with self-destructiveness which that entails.
There may be other Hamlet parallels there, but I found Ivanov more sympathetic and less irritating than I usually find Hamlet. Even as the play narrows towards its unhappy ending , you’re still hoping against hope that Ivanov will somehow pull through (apologies if that’s a spoiler – but this is Chekhov, after all).
Aside from Streatfeild, the stand-out performances for me came from the play’s women. Olivia Vinall as Sasha, the young woman who offers Ivanov a hope of redemption, is a real discovery for me. She captures beautifully all the touching ruthlessness of a teenage girl trying to turn her first crush into a real relationship. The ever-brilliant Nina Sosanya is touching as Ivanov’s dying first wife, making you pity her even as you understand his irritation with her devotion. Emma Amos brings genuine heart to social-climbing Marfusha Babakina, who could too easily topple over into caricature.
Ivanov – alongside the other Young Chekhov plays – is at the National Theatre for just one more week!