Commissioned in 1887, and first written in only six days, Ivanov tells the story of its titular hero’s fall from grace. Chekhov was so disgusted by its first performance that he decided to rewrite the show in an attempt to redeem himself. His efforts clearly proved to be effective as the play is now a classic, and is being brought to the stage by Lewis Harding and Neil Christy using a script translated by Tom Stoppard. The show stars Oli Clayton, and is set for its first night on Wednesday the 19th of February. Lachlan Robertson interviews members of the cast and crew for this upcoming performance.
What made you decide to bring Ivanov to St Andrews?
Lewis (director): Although many are familiar with Chekhov’s later works: The Cherry Orchard; Uncle Vanya; The Seagull and Three Sisters, the same cannot be said about Chekhov’s first play, Ivanov. Traditionally overlooked due to stylistic differences with Chekhov’s later, more subtle works, the play is not any less noteworthy and should be appreciated as a different phenomenon. Furthermore, Ivanov’s anonymity makes it an exciting play to direct and allows a much greater scope for experimentation as the audience goes in with limited preconceived notions of what they are about to witness. Its bizarre, melodramatic style lends itself well to a creative and surrealistic interpretation that enables the exploration of some of its subtler and more relevant themes, while remaining true to the genius of Chekhov’s writing.
Are you using the play’s original historical context?
Lewis: Much as I would have loved to force the cast to do dodgy Russian accents and dress in 1880s costume, thus creating what I could affectionately call ‘Borat visits Tsarist Russia’, I wasn’t sure the cast, audience or the University’s department for racial equality would be particularly pleased. Instead, I’ve opted for a more modern approach (aided by the Tom Stoppard translation), although the setting is, to a large part, based on audience interpretation… so you’ll just have to come see the play!
Ivanov has been described as the Russian Hamlet, how do you feel playing the titular role?
Oli Clayton (actor, Ivanov): Playing Ivanov is definitely a challenge because you are constantly trying to bridge the gap between his current state of disillusion and the former vitality of his character that all the other characters frequently allude to. It is important for the audience to support Ivanov despite his many flaws, however the scenes in which Chekhov allows this empathy to build are few and far between. So, in playing the part you are constantly treading a tight rope between his inward despair and his outward humanity. However, despite the difficulties, it is certainly a fun part to play simply because of the range and extremes of emotion that Ivanov oscillates between throughout the play. He keeps you on your toes and certainly doesn’t allow you to get complacent.
Why should St Andrews students come to see Ivanov?
Lewis: Chekhov is rarely performed here in St Andrews and Ivanov is rarely performed anywhere. This is a great opportunity to see something a bit out of the ordinary done in an unusual and exciting way performed by some of St Andrews’ best actors. Ivanov is both hilarious and exceptionally tragic and it would be a shame for anyone to miss it.
Chris Cannell (actor): Russia, in the way of empires since history began, is an enigma wrapped in a fur cloak (to paraphrase a better man than I). Ivanov is the story of that empire on the cusp of mutating, of becoming the bogeyman of the east that dominated the 20th century. While this truly is looking with hindsight, the way of things is to always see them as they are situated, not as they are. As such, Ivanov is a play with great historical interest, as well as being a piece of writing good, and entire, unto itself.
Arnie Birss (actor): So often it unfortunately seems to be the case that theatre in St Andrews is contemporary or Shakespeare. Not so with Chekhov’s Ivanov. It is a sterling play, with a deservedly good translation, but more broadly I hope it will demonstrate the potential wealth of foreign, historical playwrights out there. Why not Moliere, Ibsen, Ionesco?