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Ivan and the Dogs

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
5 stars
Recession-divined poverty destroys lives. Yet the survivor of
post-Communist Russia's 1990s economic meltdown in Hattie Naylor's
devastating solo play - a co-production between ATC and Soho Theatre - suggests there can be the strangest of liberations too. Based on a true story, Naylor's hour-long monologue
tells the harrowing yet appositely heart-warming tale of one
psychologically and emotionally damaged little boy's Dickensian flight
from domestic abuse onto the cold Moscow streets with only two packets
of crisps and a photograph of his mother for comfort.

Before he can be one more statistic, Ivan is taken under the wing of a
white dog and her brood of fellow strays. This pack he runs with become
his new family, developing an unspoken trust as they run the gauntlet
of gangsters, police and more hardened street urchin addicts, who only
confirm to Ivan that all humans are bad.

As related by actor Rad Kaim from the interior of a small raised white
cube that on Naomi Wilkinson's set, lit up by video projections of
canines in motion, might be a cell or a kennel, this remarkable tale
becomes an intensely concentrated glimpse into the brutal joys of
Ivan's former world. Delivered without fuss or histrionics in a low-key
whisper and pulsed by a soundscape by Dan Jones that mixes amplified
Russian language noises off and sounds of abuse with poignant piano
sketches, the effect in Ellen McDougall's flawless slow burner of a
production is both harrowing and mesmeric. This all comes home to roost
once Ivan is put back on civilisation's leash. The dreams he relates of
running wild and free light up his face with memories of a rare time, a
time when he was truly happy.

The Herald, April 25th 2011

ends

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