Ivanov by Anton Chekhov Chichester Festival Theatre

An outstanding performance of Ivanov with Samuel West as the self-loathing, pitiless protagonist propelled beyond youth’s dominance, passion and zeal into a furious apathy incapable of action in a middle-age (actually, mid-30s), made the worse by debt.

Chekhov’s play sends no political messages.  Its characters are a small-minded group passing from scenes of high-spirits whipped up for contrast to their mundane and petty-minded lives of resentment and envy whose agency is expressed often only in taking others down.  A focus for their enmity and hypocrisy is Anna, Ivanov’s Jewish wife dying of TB.  Even whilst the doctor who is treating her exhorts and harries Ivanov to have compassion for the wife he no longer loves, the doctor himself is engaging in a double-life of gossip- mongering and anonymous letters.

For Ivanov, even the declaration of long-standing love from Sasha, brings only momentary respite.  After Anna’s death at the end of the play, when Ivanov is engaged to Sasha, the reality of their relationship is the reality of Ivanov’s febrile inner psyche undermining Sasha’s love and bringing her acute anxiety and doubt.  It is only at this point that Ivanov has the realisation that theirs is a doomed relationship.  The realization of the destructive impulse in him ultimately seals his fate.

This production superbly combines the comedy and bathos that surrounds the characters in their provincial lives.  Only Lebedev (Jonathan Coy) demonstrates a generosity of spirit and pocket by offering to help Ivanov with his financial difficulties.  But even this has to be offered in secret so as not to antagonise his parsimonious wife. Peter Egan, (Shabyelski), Jonathan Coy, above, and Samuel West are outstanding in portraying the earth-bound qualities of the human condition.

WIGS 4/5

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