Review: Ivanov at The National Theatre *****

The latest Jewish News

Read this week’s digital edition

Click Here

Review: Ivanov at The National Theatre *****

Fiona Leckerman gives a perfect score to Chekhov's classic drama set in 19th century Russia

Fiona Green is a features writer

Beverley Klein, Emma Amos, Peter Egan, Debra Gille. Credit Johan Persson
Beverley Klein, Emma Amos, Peter Egan, Debra Gille. Credit Johan Persson

There’s often a mild misconception about Chekhov, in that his plays are hard to understand, or not an easy watch – but this could not be further from the truth in the case of Ivanov, now showing as part of the young Chekhov season at The National Theatre.

With thanks to David Hare’s brilliant adaptation, Chekhov is even more accessible and the themes explored as relevant as when first written and staged in 1887.

Ivanov, played wonderfully by a morose and self-deprecating Geoffrey Streatfeild, is an unhappy dissatisfied man, who has not only lost his fortune, but his Jewish wife is dying of tuberculosis; replace tuberculous with cancer and Ivanov could very easily be a man of today, the sense of depression is relatable and real.

Ivanov, like many Russian characters of the time, quite enjoys his melancholy, much to the despair of all those around him and in particular his devoted wife, Anna (tenderly played by Nina Sosanya), who sacrifices her family and religion to marry Ivanov.

The play switches beautifully between light and shade with divine comic turns from the supporting cast. Peter Egan as Count Matvyei Shabyeslski is a particular delight.

Geoffrey Streatfield in Ivanov. Credit Johan Persson
Geoffrey Streatfield in Ivanov. Credit Johan Persson

The tone and pace of the play is perfect as the characters all bemoan their dull or penniless or loveless or lonely lives, traits that unite them.

Jonathan Kent’s direction is flawless with actors effortlessly addressing the audience outing their inner torments, often with humorous and startling effect. The set is atmospheric with moody lighting changes on cue.

The story is underpinned by the Ivanov’s decision to marry a Jew, which reflects Chekhov’s secret real-life engagement to a Jewish woman that ended after a few months.

It is speculated that Ivanov’s decision was motivated by money, but in actuality it’s implied he selfishly marries Anna to rebel. Ivanov is so damaged and conflicted that in a fit of rage and frustration he throws the most derogatory insult toward Anna, calling her a dirty Jew; a shocking and pivotal moment in the play.

Ivanov is a strong, entertaining and reverting watch, which reaffirms how fortunate we are to have theatre that continues to provide diverse, inspirational and powerful pieces.

The Young Chekhov trilogy of plays, Platonov, Ivanov and The Seagull are now playing at The National Theatre until 8 October.

Support your Jewish community. Support your Jewish News

Thank you for helping to make Jewish News the leading source of news and opinion for the UK Jewish community. Today we're asking for your invaluable help to continue putting our community first in everything we do.

For as little as £5 a month you can help sustain the vital work we do in celebrating and standing up for Jewish life in Britain.

Jewish News holds our community together and keeps us connected. Like a synagogue, it’s where people turn to feel part of something bigger. It also proudly shows the rest of Britain the vibrancy and rich culture of modern Jewish life.

You can make a quick and easy one-off or monthly contribution of £5, £10, £20 or any other sum you’re comfortable with.

100% of your donation will help us continue celebrating our community, in all its dynamic diversity...


Being a community platform means so much more than producing a newspaper and website. One of our proudest roles is media partnering with our invaluable charities to amplify the outstanding work they do to help us all.


There’s no shortage of oys in the world but Jewish News takes every opportunity to celebrate the joys too, through projects like Night of Heroes, 40 Under 40 and other compelling countdowns that make the community kvell with pride.


In the first collaboration between media outlets from different faiths, Jewish News worked with British Muslim TV and Church Times to produce a list of young activists leading the way on interfaith understanding.


Royal Mail issued a stamp honouring Holocaust hero Sir Nicholas Winton after a Jewish News campaign attracted more than 100,000 backers. Jewish Newsalso produces special editions of the paper highlighting pressing issues including mental health and Holocaust remembrance.

Easy access

In an age when news is readily accessible, Jewish News provides high-quality content free online and offline, removing any financial barriers to connecting people.

Voice of our community to wider society

The Jewish News team regularly appears on TV, radio and on the pages of the national press to comment on stories about the Jewish community. Easy access to the paper on the streets of London also means Jewish News provides an invaluable window into the community for the country at large.

We hope you agree all this is worth preserving.

read more: