"…Mothers and fathers tried to find things they could get rid of, things that ate, things that drank…the dogs went first….and some children were taken to the other side of the city and left."
So begins the harrowing true story of Ivan Mishukov who, at aged four, lived on the streets where he was adopted by a pack of wild dogs.
It’s hard now to comprehend the poverty which hit Russia in the late eighties and early nineties – high food prices, unemployment, alcohol and drug abuse, crime and homelessness but Ivan and the Dogs takes its audience back to the bleak streets of Moscow at a time when misery and suffering were the norm.
Ivan crawls onto stage, followed by a projected image of a white dog. The play’s set – a raised Perspex box lit from behind is all the more powerful as the solo performer is caged within it making the beautiful, sinister.
The monologue by Hattie Naylor, and paired-down set by Naomi Wilkinson is simple but as the play progresses, the sound scape and Russian voices, beautifully composed and designed by Dan Jones, transports the audience into the narrative offering a more complex experience.
Ivan is movingly portrayed by Rad Kaim, who was voted Poland’s best newcomer at the Polish Oscars in 2004. Here he imbues Ivan with honesty, devoid of sentimentality but rather opting for a matter-of-fact attitude to his experiences. This makes for heart-breaking moments when first, he finds his mother dead and then, his white dog, Belka. It’s not all doom and gloom, though. There are often hilarious moments as the four year old grows in confidence and finds a bond with his dogs.
Ivan and the Dogs is an astonishingly emotive production where the words do most of the work; no bells and whistles or pyrotechnics and yet the powerful imagery far exceeds any theatrical trickery. It’s a piece with something rather more incredible on offer. It’s an epic tale, a quest, with moments of horror, laughter and, ultimately, triumph.
- Lucia Cox