Reviews Roundup: Ivanov
The critics are unanimous in their praise for Michael Grandage's production of Chekhov's Ivanov, part of the Donmar's new season at the refurbished Wyndham's theatre

The Guardian, 18 September 2008
By Mark Espiner
**Thanks, Sujin

This is a five-star show, no question. OK, so the Times only gives it four, but there isn't a sour note in that or any of the other reviews.

They are all apt, though, to highlight the 27-year-old Chekhov's green skills and offer the received opinion that it was "the runt in the litter compared with the four great plays of Chekhov's maturity", as the Telegraph put it.

All hail Tom Stoppard, then. whose new version "is a richly intelligent rethink of a play" (Guardian) that "is blessed with a combination of sharp wit and sympathetic humanity" (Telegraph). It's "skillfully filleted" too, according to the Independent, although perhaps a little "overfree" for the Times's tastes. Michael Coveney in What's On Stage doesn't want Tom to be too full of himself, though, reminding us that Stoppard used "a literal translation by the perennially unsung Helen Rappaport".

So Anton helped by Tom (and, of course, Helen) unfold the decline and fall of Ivanov. In debt and out of love with his wife, who is dying of tuberculosis, Ivanov embarks on an affair with Sasha Lebedev, the 20-year-old daughter of his creditors. People around him take a cynical view, but none are harsher on Ivanov than his own despairing self.

In the title role, Kenneth Branagh is, according to Charles Spencer in the Telegraph, "in magnificent form ... combining the heartache of a down-at-heel Hamlet with the vituperative, self-lacerating rage of Osborne's Jimmy Porter", yet Branagh also "suggests the blighted beauty in the character that makes two women love him." Paul Taylor in the Independent takes a similar view: "This is great acting, no question," he asserts, "he's beyond praise." The Guardian's Michael Billington is likewise floored by the performance, focusing on the moment when Ivanov is offered a bag of cash to help him out of his hole: "In one of the longest theatrical silences I've ever encountered, Branagh simply stares at the money before sliding to the floor in a wrecked, disheveled heap. Branagh here touches the soul in a way I've not seen him do before."

While Billington has been keeping track of the length of theatrical silences, Spencer's been cataloguing the best onstage drunkenness. Commenting on the humour, he observes "a vaudevillian quality to the comedy that includes one of the funniest portrayals of an all-male booze-up I've seen on stage."

The rest of the cast are all tipped for their great performances and, unusually, the supporting creative team of lighting, set and sound design are all given name checks too for their hand in this work. "Everything is spot-on" enthuses the Independent: "On more than one count...a must-see." Or, as Coveney puts it: "What was that about not too much serious drama going on in the West End?"

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