Review: Ivanov

By Jenni Frazer, September 26, 2008
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Wyndhams Theatre, London WC2 

Anton Chekhov's Ivanov is generally written off as the young man's early scribblings before going on to the greatness of plays such as The Cherry Orchard and Three Sisters. But in the skilful hands of writer Tom Stoppard and director Michael Grandage, the Donmar's production of Ivanov is a revelation - a hugely intricate West End play which is both comic and tragic.

Its jewel is a stunning performance by Kenneth Branagh as Nicolai Alexandreyovitch Ivanov, a land-owner who has made a bad marriage and fallen on hard times.

Gina McKee's ghostly Anna Petrovna, Ivanov's wife, is Jewish and has given up her faith to marry him; but local bitchy antisemitic gossip insists that Ivanov married her in the expectation that her parents would support them financially. Instead, Anna's parents will have nothing to do with the couple, and now, five years later, Ivanov is in a trap. He is no longer in love with his wife, who is dying of tuberculosis, and instead he takes refuge in the warm social circle of the Lebedev family - to whose penny-pinching wife he owes money. There are two extraordinary moments in which Branagh shows his brilliance as an actor. Lebedev (Kevin R McNally), protectively, tries to lend Ivanov money with which he can pay off Lebedev's own wife: and Branagh simply crumples to the floor, rocking with shame at what he has become.

And at the end, Stoppard gives Branagh an incredible speech. It is a tour de force, a sustained rant of self-loathing, delivered in what looked like one long breath. Unmissable. (Tel: 0844 482 5120)

    Last updated: 10:58am, September 25 2008