Ivan and the Dogs

“I tell that all humans lie. I tell her dogs don’t lie. I tell her that everything is made up by humans. I tell her that humans have made up the past and the future up to make ourselves up, so they are one big lie. Dogs just are. They don’t make up stories.”


From February 26 to 28, the Year 12 drama students performed their own rendition of Hattie Naylor’s play Ivan and the Dogs as part of their IB drama curriculum. From quick character changes to emotive Russian expressions, this performance was a massive success. The play left audiences to ponder about the intricacies of life as we know it. 


Set in Moscow, Russia, Ivan and the Dogs follows a young boy named Ivan who runs away from his household in hopes of freeing his mother from his abusive step-father. Ivan, alone and destitute, navigates his way around the streets of Moscow and encounters numerous challenges: gangs of boys, the police, and the bombzi. However, he soon comes across Belka, a street dog, who’s continual presence and protective instincts toward Ivan lead him to form a bond with the canine. Ivan is soon accepted into her pack of five dogs–Vano, Strelka, Ruslan, Kugya and Belka–learning to survive on their own, testing the meaning of loyalty and selflessness in an otherwise cruel world.


The Year 12’s were able to convincingly illustrate the juxtaposition between the cruelty and complexity of the human world to the pureness of the animal world. Through the succession of character changes between the students, each role was played by all actors at various times throughout the play. Through this, a sense of inclusivity for all actors was achieved. Simultaneously, this perpetual exchange of roles implicitly conveyed that there are only two roles in society with which one can adopt: either become subject to the cruelty of humanity or become the ones subjecting others. This also gave students the equal opportunity to showcase their acting skills. The actors further demonstrated their wide range of talents through their ability to act in the simplistic language and naive characteristic of Ivan and, remarkably, the complex foreign Russian language which represented the adult world. The students’ indisputable acting skills attributed towards the clarity in delivery of language and the straightforward yet impactful recurring message:


humans lie, dogs don’t lie


In addition, the otherwise simple set design of the show engaged audiences as they were given the freedom to imagine the scenery and atmosphere in full, encouraging individuals to personally connect with the play in their own way. The parti-colored stage lights established the ambivalent tone, leaving audiences with mixed feelings of satisfaction and melancholy for the characters. Furthermore, the deliberately placed dramatic pauses between lines heightened the tension within the room, leaving audiences on the edge of their seats in anticipation for the next development in the story. 


All in all, it is without a doubt that the Year 12s put on a fantastic performance. Congratulations Year 12s and Mr. Hannon! We’re excited to see what else the BSM drama department has in store.


Here are some personal responses from a few of the year 12 students themselves regarding the show: 



  • Did you guys face any challenges rehearsing or performing for the show? If so, how did you overcome them?



Giuseppe: One of the biggest challenges we faced was making the play visual. The original piece is actually a radio play so there aren’t any stage directions apart from when we needed to speak Russian; so we were essentially given a blank canvas. According to Mr Hannon, “theatre is theft” so we looked at other pieces of theatre for inspiration. We all had our ideas and then it just all came together as the piece you guys watched. 


Martha: Of course! Like every production, there were a number of challenges we had to deal with before facing the audience; one of them being the cardboard boxes. Throughout the piece we used cardboard boxes to set the scene, as platforms etc. It was our job to place each box in its correct space for each scene and it was honestly one of the most challenging things I’ve had to do for any production as there was a lot of pressure considering the fact that a misplacement could potentially lead to injuries and such. Luckily, through practice and teamwork we were able to overcome this obstacle. 


Ervin: We faced several challenges such as lifting a person up and learning the structure of set change. We managed to overcome this by rehearsing countless times and learning to trust one another.


Arianna:  Some of the biggest challenges we had to face were to do with our set. Because we had a different set up for each scene and were working solely with unlabelled cardboard boxes as our props, there was a lot of pressure as it was often necessary for certain boxes to be accessible to the performers on stage. To make sure we got it right, we created a little ‘how-to’ sheet showing who was moving what and where.



  • What was your favorite scene from the play? Why?



Giuseppe: My favorite scene for sure was at the end when Isaac (as Ivan) is alone inside the van and all the lights are dim. It created this sense of loss, death and hopelessness–it really resonated with me in a kind of morbid but interesting way. 


Martha: A scene that I really enjoyed was at the end when Livia (as Ivan) stands alone with a spotlight on her as she looks up at the ceiling with snow being projected behind her as the entire cast sings a Russian lullaby. I just thought that this image was really beautiful and evocative, and I love how these small elements were put together to create such a memorable moment. 


Ervin: My favourite scene was when “Ivan” found out that Vano died. It was very emotional because he cried and screamed for the dog, and not his mother whom he found out was dead too. 


Arianna: My favourite scene has to be towards the end of the play where Ivan learns that his dogs, his family, have been killed by the militia in order to capture him. In that moment, all performers came on stage dressed as Ivan and shared the feeling of grief and pain. There was something very poetic and symbolic about the scene that really stuck with me. 



  • How would you compare Ivan to other productions you’ve been in? If Ivan was your first production, then have you learned anything as a drama student? 



Giuseppe: Well this production is definitely one of the darker ones I have done, more akin to DNA than other productions. I kinda saw a bit of Phil from DNA in my scenes so I took inspiration again from that.


Martha: As this was an IB Theatre piece, I’d say that I was more involved in this production – in terms of creative process and during the performance itself. Usually in productions like Chicago or Grease, the cast was big enough for roles to be spread out however since we’re working with a smaller cast, I felt like I had more responsibility as I had more parts both in acting and in preparing some sets. Along with this, this felt a lot more conventional compared to other productions which I’ve been in – though the naturalistic aspects do remind me of DNA – and because of this I feel like I’ve learnt a great deal.


Ervin: Ivan is different compared to other productions because it was originally a radio play. This means that we had to start from scratch. It was also a real-life story which made it more interesting because the cast were able to emotionally attach with Ivan’s character and occasionally made us cry (externally rarely but internally a lot!).


Arianna: Ivan was extremely different to any production I’ve ever been a part of. For starters, it was originally written as a radio play and reads as such. We explored elements of physical and non naturalistic theatre in ways that I never have before. Furthermore, all performers had their turn at being the lead as well as playing many other characters. It wasn’t exactly your typical play.


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