Remember back in January when I bought tickets for all four plays in the Donmar's season at the West End? Well I saw the first play this week, Ivanov with Kenneth Branagh in the lead.
And wow, what a way to start. Not just Branagh but the entire cast may with the slight exception of Andrea Riseborough who played Sasha were startlingly good, in fact I haven't seen acting of that calibre in a long time.
The play, by Russian Anton Chekhov, tells of the decline and fall of Ivanov (pronounced I-van-ov, not Iv-an-ov as I had being doing for the last six months). He is a man that had joie de vivre, charm, goodness, a beautiful wife and land. But the start of the play finds him heavily in debt and out of love with his dying wife.
He has fallen instead for the daughter of his creditor, who reciprocates his love and is determined to restore his former lustre.
It would be easy to play Ivanov with melodrama and lose the audience's sympathy. But while you feel at turns frustrated by his decaying personality you can't help being moved.
In an interview Branagh one of his loves of the play is the fact that there are so many good characters and he isn't wrong. Tom Stoppard who did the adaptation has brought out each and laced the play with humour which if you read Chekhov's musing's at the time of writing was as he wished. He didn't want anyone to be a hero or villain and in this production that is certainly achieved.
The reflection is very much of real life and there are thoughts and emotions displayed in the character of Ivanov that are inherantly human - if we dare to admit it.
My only reservation about Riseborough - a rising star of stage and screen - was born out of her tendancy to be a little to over animated.
For complete quality, sheer entertainment and the level of spit Shakespeare would be proud to see, I'd hurry along and get a ticket.