Ivan and the Dogs is the first project for ATC since the departure of artistic director Bijan Sheibani. Originally a BBC radio play, Hattie Naylor’s script is developed here for the stage. The story follows Ivan, a four year-old boy who abandons home and finds solace in a pack of wild dogs in 1990’s Moscow.
Rad Kaim plays Ivan with soft vulnerability, tapping into his childlike persona nicely. His storytelling style is soothing, underscored by Dan Jones’ ethereal soundscape and accompanied by ghostlike projections of the dogs. Kaim captures a fantastic fascination with the creatures alongside moments of innocent humour as he jumps into a bin to scavenge for food. Another touching moment is when Ivan stands tall on a Moscow hillside, reflecting on his turbulent journey so far.
However, Naylor’s text makes Ivan’s relationship feel jolted in its commencement and struggles to establish a soulful connection between man and beast. When Ivan becomes accepted amongst his canine companions, there’s no feeling of jubilation or even achievement. The possibilities for an actor feel under-appreciated, with very little physical or vocal dynamism in the piece; even Ivan’s beautiful singing is pre-recorded.
We yearn to see Ivan adopt the harsh, animalistic qualities he speaks of – the hostile barking and frantic running, but Ellen McDougall’s production never delivers this. The translation of a radio play to the stage fails to seize an opportunity in bringing the piece alive and all the drama is simply narrated or presented in the soundtrack.
Sadly, Ivan and the Dogs never really manages to move, scare or surprise us. The piece is a gentle and watchable story, but you’re unlikely to leave the theatre wagging your tail with excitement.
- Alex Packer