City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

Ivanov Review

By Kenneth Scott - Posted on 23 August 2009

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Gems of Mazal
Running time: 
Alexa Christopher-Daniels (director / adapter).
Alexandra Batiste-Wegner (Anna Ivanova / Zinaida Lebedev), Laura Jakob (Sasha Lebedev), Stephen McLeod (Nicholas Ivanov), Ruth Thompson (Eugenia Lvova), Christopher Wood (chorus), Oliver Wood (Shabelsky / Paul Lebedev).

I seem to remember that when I was a youth there was a sign in the local swimming pool that went along the lines of "No running, no bombing, no petting".  All of this and much more happens in this production of Chekhov's "Ivanov".

Set around a sparse, rather boring pool side party, it has a somewhat dated, provincial feel, like a 1970s Play for Today.  In common with much of Chekhov it centres on a little group of people trapped in futility and frustration, searching for something they don't have or have lost.

The enthusiastic company put a premium on play within their work and this is particularly evident in the first act, where there is too much horsing around and the splashing actors get in the way of the words.  Even with only about half the characters there is still multiple role play and on occasion actors play two parts within the space of one line.  While this is intended to draw attention to the gaps and similarities between them, it makes it difficult to follow.

There are some good performances and Ivanon is correctly portrayed as less of a villain and more of a man who is heart-weary - sick of himself and sick of life.  He is filled with self-doubt and despair over his financial situation and from falling out of love with his wife, Anna.  He does however fail to oscillate between ecstasy and depression and we never really feel that Sasha is in love with the idea of saving him.  Casting the doctor as a less priggish woman allows her to display empathy for Anna in her vilification of Ivanov.

The play itself is not without faults.  Chekhov made revisions because initial audiences didn't understand it, and even then he admitted that it was "probably clearer in my letter than on the stage".  He also had problems with actors not knowing their parts and talking nonsense.  Not a problem here - although what he would have made of lines including "a cup of cold sick" and "financial fuck-up" is anybody's guess.

Is the swimming pool setting a gimic?  Well, not entirely.  While it might not add authenticity it condenses the action to close up, below eye level and allows the audience to engage in a way that would not be possible with a conventional stage.  The characters can flirt and fight physically in a way that would otherwise look unnatural.  Some of the additions to the text to put the pool into context are probably unnecessary and seem to be attempts to justify its use.

It's to its credit that this production (without scenery, lighting and elaborate costume) is memorable and does not sink without trace.

So, what's next - "The Cherry Orchard" in the fruit and veg aisle of Tesco?

Note - The production (at around 50 minutes) is shorter than its advertised 90 minutes.  The audience may get wet.  You may be able to put your feet in pool.  Wear layers.

Times: 20, 22, 24, 26, 28, 30 August, 9.30pm.