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Review: Finding sympathy for Ivanov, National Theatre #YoungChekhov

Geoffrey Streatfeild as Ivanov. Image by Johan Persson

I've only seen Ivanov once before, the Kenneth Branagh's version in 2008 and that one was also notable for starring a pre-Loki Tom Hiddleston as the straight-laced Lvov. Re-reading my review I seemed to have enjoyed it more than I remember. That was back in the early days of my theatre-going when I knew little of Chekhov and his plays and this time around I did miss the element of surprise.

Geoffrey Streatfeild plays Ivanov a man who, with the benefit of modern medicine, would be diagnosed as suffering from depression. He finds little joy in day to day life; he has fallen out of love with his wife Anna (Nina Sosanya) a Jew disowned by her family for marrying outside the faith who is now dying of tuberculosis. He is also in debt.

Lvov (James McArdle), the doctor attending his wife, and a self-proclaimed 'honest' man advises Ivanov to take his wife to Crimea for the good of her health but he says he hasn't the money and instead spends his evenings visiting neighbours for which Lvov constantly berates him.

The only glimmer of happiness for Ivanov is Sasha (Olivia Vinall), the daughter of his creditor, who has fallen in love with him and whom he can't seem to resist. She is determined to chase away the dark clouds in his mind and restore Ivanov to his happier former self. Meanwhile the gossips - and Lvov - think he is after Sasha for her fortune.

Ivanov is man who is in a hole and still digging. He seems aware of the impact of his behaviour which makes him feel all the more wretched but  he is incapable of making amends. Perhaps he believes himself to be a lost cause.

Geoffrey Streatfeild's portrayal makes him a difficult character to feel empathy for. It is very hard to see the joie de vivre that Ivanov supposedly once had and he can get downright nasty at times - one tirade directed at Anna drew a gasp from the audience.

There are some fun, lighter moments in the play which come from the characters around Ivanov: his wheeler dealer estate manager, Sasha's drunken, henpecked father who secretly rebels and the gossipy, rich old widow who likes to be flattered are just three.

The play is brilliantly performed - James McArdle is an excellent stiff-backed, moralising Lvov particularly after playing the ladies man Platonov - but the character of Ivanov wore my sympathy thin and there were times I wanted someone to throw him a bottle of Prozac (mean, I know, sorry). I'm going to give it four stars mainly for the performances.

It is two and a half hours long including an interval and you can see Ivanov as part of a three play day or as an individual play at the National Theatre until Oct 8.