The second play in the Jonathan Kent-directed Chekhov trilogy was Ivanov, a play I haven’t seen before except for a student production a year or two back. Chekhov’s first full-length play to be staged had a disastrous first production in Moscow, but was later restaged in St Petersburg to great acclaim. As a follow-on from Platonov it’s more confident, more assured, but also more melodramatic, more outwardly tragic.
The title character is a middle-aged landowner, tired of his sickly wife (a superb Nina Sosanya) and growing increasingly disillusioned with the world around him. Nowadays we would recognise the melancholic Ivanov to have a mental illness, and a great deal depends on whether you find this character convincing. I thought Geoffrey Streatfeild was superb in the role, sympathetic and in-depth, while James McArdle, practically unrecognisable from his role as Platonov a couple of hours before, is also excellent as the rather judgemental doctor. Olivia Vinall is superb as Sasha, the daughter of a local landowner, who falls in love with him but who cannot keep him from despair.
The most memorable scene is the dinner party: there is an almost Gogolian quality to the scene, which sees the guests frantically searching for something to eat in the face of the presence of their stingy hostess. Despite the melodrama – or perhaps because of it – the melancholic, introspective aspect of the play stands out, revealing the development of Chekhov’s psychological insights.
As a play in its own right it was a fascinating watch; as the middle production of a trilogy, it was illuminating in the way it shone further light on one of the greatest dramatists.