By David Hennessy
Gavin McAlinden’s Acting Gymnasium’s latest production, one of Anton Chekhov’s Ivanov, further cements the reputation of this director and his group of actors.
The play charts the downward spiral of Nikolai Ivanov who is “old before his time”. His dreams of rescuing Russia turned into little more and he is now bankrupt and heavily in debt. Watching his wife Anna die before his eyes from tuberculosis, Ivanov hates himself for how he can feel no love for her at a time when she needs him so much. Instead of spending time with his ill wife, he goes to see the Lebedevs, a family to whom he owes a great deal of money but this has more to do with sultry young female Sasha Lebedev who is infatuated with him and in turn, Nikolai is unable to resist.
Ivanov is criticised behind his back for not spending time with Anna by people who say he only married her for money and now wishes to see her dead and marry Sasha to regain social status and wipe out all his debts and this could be very close to the truth. It is the “honest” Doctor Lvov who challenges Ivanov most persistently and directly, trying to make him see that his actions are only driving his wife into an even earlier grave. The tension between the two men simmers from the very outset and with both addressing the crowd directly, it is obvious they are on a collision course.
But the most explosive conflict is between Ivanov and his wife. Anna follows Nikolai to the Lebedevs to discover her husband in a compromising position with Sasha with the shock causing her to collapse. When she later sees Sasha in her home, she finally unleashes her disgust with Ivanov attacking him both verbally and physically and Ivanov erupts violently: “You’re dead”, telling his wife that she is on borrowed time and he is just waiting for her to pass even throwing a table at the wall to add to the shock value of the speech. Immediately remorseful, Ivanov follows it with “that is the worst thing I have ever done”.
This production keeps things such as set and costume to a minimum to allow the focus to remain on the performances and this pays off with the cast excellent throughout. Seldom offstage from start to finish, Alexander Neal is captivating in the title role. Neal has been nominated for an Off West End Award for his work in Sus and The Irish World was impressed with his lead performance in another Chekhov play, The Seagull back in April. He doesn’t disappoint here in a role where he is so key to play’s success. It is not easy to make his character any bit relatable due to his actions but he manages this.
Another great performance in a faultless cast come from Limerick’s Clare Langford as Anna who evokes such sympathy for her unfortunate illness while the sense of love being lost is also almost palpable.
Kathryn McCartin from Antrim brings Sasha to life first as the naïve young woman who wants to save Ivanov and later as the bride-to-be watching her big day and life come under threat from the darkness that clouds her lover’s mind and heart.
Gavin and his team have delivered with a play that is so engaging and absorbing you may be left at the end wondering where two hours went. Look out for more work from his group when they perform Playboy of the Western World at the Corrib Rest in January.
The Acting Gymnasium perform Ivanov in rep with Parasite, a play inspired by the writing of Ivan Turgenev at Theatro Technis until November 23. For more information, go to: www.theatrotechnis.com/.