Ivan and the Dogs, Soho Theatre

Thursday 14th October 2010

Rad Kaim in Ivan and the Dogs
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For its first production following the departure of artistic director Bijan Sheibani, ATC teams up with Soho Theatre to produce this canine tale, Hattie Naylor’s Ivan and the Dogs, which is set in Moscow in the early 1990s (the Yeltsin era). After the fall of Communism, there is freedom, but also poverty. Fed up with his drunken parents, four-year-old Ivan decides to leave home. On the cold streets, he meets Belka, a white dog, and finally eeks out a living as part of a pack.

Ostensibly based on a true story, but actually written by Hattie Naylor as a fable of self-determination in a city of ghastly iniquities, the play shadows Ivan in his encounters with glue-sniffers, bully boys, down-and-outs and thuggish policemen. An urban folk tale, the text bristles with a rough doggy love, and growls with admiration for canine life. There are no fleas or scabs on these lovely beasts.

As a poetic story, it is full of vivid phrases — such as God pausing to count the dead in the silence after a shooting or an other act of violence — and it pulses with strong emotions. But it never quite manages to avoid sentimentality in its vision of a little boy in a dystopic metropolis.

Directed by Ellen McDougall, the play features designer Naomi Wilkinson’s cool white cube, and a loving solo performance by Rad Kaim. This Polish actor brings Ivan barking into marvelous life with his stillness, his fatalistic hand gestures, and his feral poses. It’s an engaging performance that mixes vulnerability and impishness, gripping you in its quiet, gentle charm, and protecting you against the horrors of the big bad city. With its video projections by Simon Dinsett, and soundscape by Dan Jones, this is a short 70-minute evening, but one that ends on a note of exaltation.

© Aleks Sierz

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