IVAN AND THE DOGS
by Hattie Naylor.
The Lowry (Studio) Salford Pier 8 Salford Quays M50 3AZ To 10 May.
Runs 1hr 5min No interval.
TICKETS: 0843 208 6010.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 21 April at the Traverse Theatre (Traverse 2) Edinburgh.
Quietly powerful drama.
What happens when people give up on human values? Individuals can inflict misery on their family. But it’s amplified when society itself breaks down; when systems collapse, leading to desperate poverty.
It’s here, in ways hard to contemplate from a more ordered distance, that human actions goes off the known map into a ‘Here Be Dragons’ territory of behaviour.
Leaving aside the comparative comfort of Rudyard Kipling’s Mowgli, the experience of Russian child Ivan Mishukov in 1990s Moscow recalls that of Rome’s founders Romulus and Remus, nurtured by a she-wolf. Their saviour is reborn here in the dog Bjelba, as the dynastic struggle that led to the Roman children’ orphaning is replaced by destitution amid the breakdown of post-Communist Russia, where the rich and vicious grab everything for themselves.
Ivan escaped a violent home, finding salvation with Moscow’s roaming dogs. Hattie Naylor’s hour-plus monologue is an account of his experiences. It’s the people – the gangsters and bullies, rather than the canines – who represent a dog-eat-dog threat. The dogs themselves have been kicked out, but in the streets they admit Ivan, who has only his diminishing stock of pickles and crisps.
Occasionally, the outline of a large dog is seen loping along, but the main focus is a raised cubicle where Rad Kaim’s Ivan crouches or sits. It’s an image suggesting survival and concealment in an unfriendly city, a hole-and-corner, sleeping in a doorway or drain existence.
But the force of Naylor’s script and Ellen McDougall’s production for ATC is that, amid the echoing sounds of Russian children’s and rougher voices, Ivan describes the events with a young child’s innocence and lack of complaint. Thundering Dickensian denunciation might make the social evils clear. But Ivan’s quietness, constantly calling his audience in towards him, has a gentleness that emphasises the good in child and dog, like a bubble in the human storm, protective yet at risk from the turbulence around.
And the real Ivan survived two years like this, a salutary lesson about dysfunctional families and societies, if also giving a new angle on the idea of going to the dogs.
Ivan: Rad Kaim.
Unseen characters: Max Bollinger, Oleg Dzhabrailov, Marusiya Kalinina, Oleg Kalninsh, Anastasia Mara, Basher Savage, Andrei Zayats.
Children’s voices: Pupils from Russian School, Drzhba and Russian Association Sputnik.
Director: Ellen McDougall.
Designer: Naomi Wilkinson.
Lighting: Katharine Williams.
Sound/Composer: Dan Jones.
Video: Duncan McLean.
Movement: Joanna Croll.
Dramaturg: Nina Steiner.