Ivanov – the Russian Hamlet?
“It is time we came to our senses. I have been playing the part of Hamlet, and you have been playing the part of a noble and devoted girl. We have kept up the farce long enough.” (Ivanov)
Anton Pavlovich Chekhov wrote his first known play for Borsh Theatre of Moscow at age 27, in under two weeks. It premiered on 19 November 1887. “I wrote this play almost on a bet, following a conversation with Korsh. I went to bed, invented the theme, and proceeded to write it up. I spent two weeks, more precisely, ten days working on it,” he wrote in a letter. The piece was originally meant to be a comedy, a departure from conventions and the theatrical canon of the day, whose protagonist is “an average man, by no means a hero”. The first production was a success, but even Chekhov himself was dissatisfied with its artistic quality. The second version turned the comedy into a drama, which left a clear mark on the characters and style of the play. This second version premiered at Aleksandrinsky Theatre in 1888 and was an even bigger hit, and since then, this Chekhov piece has regularly featured in the repertoires of most theatres worldwide. The character and “message” of the play’s protagonist spark controversy to this very day, as they leave room for a variety of interpretations. Ivanov is a disillusioned intellectual with profound sentiments, who sees his lack of fulfilment in a tragic light. In the course of the play, he compares himself to Hamlet on several occasions. It is not by chance that many theatre makers and literary experts refer to Ivanov as the “Russian Hamlet”, a talented man destined for greater things but unable to become the master of his fate, whose rebellion against the world eventually turns into self-destruction.
“I am nearly killed by shame when I think what a strong, healthy man like myself has become – heaven only knows what – a Manfred or a Hamlet, or some sort of superfluous man...” (Ivanov)
Director János Szász, who has worked with Chekhov plays on a number of occasions, has directed Ivanov for the first time. For him, staging Chekhov’s drama represents a secret to unlock, a special emotional-spiritual journey with the company, at the end of which we witness the fall of an intellectual through Ivanov’s complex personality, and perhaps, come closer to understanding what it means to be human.