Review excerpts Heather Holland


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Ivanov review excerpts

Heather Holland
I found the play degrading to women. All female parts were a bit embarrassing: Anna was hopelessly devoted to a husband that didn’t love her and came across as spineless and more of an object; Zinaida, Ivanov’s debtor’s wife, was a strong, highly comical character but most of the time the audience was laughing at her not with her and even though she seems to make the decisions, they are often undermined by her husband; and finally Sasha, although she was meant to be the strong individual, she ended up falling for a man who would only ever hurt her yet she was unable to resist, implying men can have total control over women when they want it, enough even to make them loose what they pride themselves in.
James Carragher
The descent into depression was rapid; soon he was having violent mood swings, throwing plates of salmon across the room, shouting and then at his most vulnerable state curling into a ball under his desk and sobbing. This was a poignant point in the play. You could see the build up to a climax, but almost conversely you could see how it would not be ridiculous, but realistic and authentic, in keeping with the realism of Chekov’s play. Ivanov’s soliloquies were becoming more and more disturbed talking of “ending it all” and numerous other double entendres. The darkening of his character kept in time with the death of his wife, ending the relationship with an argument and the final phrase “that is worst thing I have ever done”, simple, utilitarian words that describe the disgrace he committed, indicative of his character.
Rachel Treharne

I found ‘Ivanov’ was made incredibly engaging and powerful by the mood of the play, which was almost continually shifting from broad, relaxed comedy to very moving, personal and sometimes tense scenes, to the point where the audience was laughing one moment, then would suddenly stop as it became inappropriate to laugh at the emotions being portrayed on stage. That the play managed to exploit such different ends of the emotional spectrum of the audience so fully without either aspect taking away from the other made the whole performance richer and more honest. It allowed ‘Ivanov’ to express a deeply moving yet difficult and complex story without becoming monotonous or heavy.
Chandu Wickramarachchi
A common motif in many plays is the idea of intense conflict between two central characters. In Chekhov’s Ivanov this theme is clearly represented by the conflict of, what seems to be, ‘moral values’ between Nikolai Ivanov and Dr. Eugene Lvov. However there is one subtle difference in this case, which makes this particular antagonism all the more intriguing: both men have the potential to win the audience’s sympathy. Let’s first take Lvov: the so-called “honest” man. He is portrayed from the very beginning as an innocent character by Chekhov – always wearing formal white and spectacled, it would be nearly impossible to make a man seem less threatening. This man comes across as a strong crusader against corruption. Although he himself feels that he cannot state his true feelings directly, especially to Ivanov, he manages at times to bluntly show his disgust towards the play’s main character. He does catch onto the possibility that Ivanov is waiting for his wife to die so that he can re-marry and receive a new dowry. However Lvov is harshly rebuked, even by the supporting characters. At one stage, Anna (who seems to be the least likely character to insult someone) suggests that all that Lvov wants is for everyone to believe that he’s an ‘honest man’. This view can easily be shared by the audience, who might see Lvov’s many insults at Ivanov as merely repetitive outbursts with no real meaning or usefulness.

This is truly emphasised in one scene when Ivanov seems completely hopeless and plainly asks Lvov what he wants from him. Lvov continues with his criticism whilst the audience may see that Ivanov’s lack of love for his wife, as Anna says later, is no fault of his own. Lvov isn’t present in the scenes which clearly show Ivanov’s internal struggle, such as the long silence and emotional breakdown after being offered money by Lebedev. Therefore, maybe, he cannot empathise with Ivanov in the same way the audience can.

In my opinion, Chekhov makes Ivanov much more interesting with realistic sub-plots, such as the schemes of Borkin and the story of Count Shabelsky. However, I believe the tension between Dr. Lvov and Ivanov is essential for the combination and flow of the whole subtext. In Donmar’s production of this play, Tom Hiddleston and Kenneth Branagh both have unique on-stage personas which work well for this intense dynamic. Their behaviour, full of conflicted mannerisms and intense expression, truly fit with Chekhov’s theme of realism, and make this play enjoyable to watch and think about.

What made the play so enjoyable for me was the way I could draw parallels between certain situations in the play and my life. The scene of the dinner party at the neighbours with its awkwardness was very familiar to me. The absolute bizarreness of the scenes between the Count and Borkin also seemed familiar to me. They reminded me of the micro-society that can develop in a particular area, for example a boarding house - the members of the society think that their culture is entirely normal, however to an outsider looking in, the society appears to be very strange and mad. For me this is one of the key aspects of the play that made me enjoy it so much.
Nick Cereceda

Growing up as a typical young boy, tasting a new sweet, playing a new-found game or visiting an entirely new place, might provide me with a pleasant surprise. No such small motive can cause a now grown adolescent, who has little knowledge of Chekhov’s work, actually has no great idea of what to expect from the latest adaptation of the laboriously rewritten Ivanov and thus foolishly believes he could find one or two better things to do than to pay London’s West-End Wyndham’s Theatre a casual visit, to happily confess that the experience left me with that same, badly-missed sense of wonder, appreciation and revelation.

The production brought to life the now understandable intentions of Chekhov to echo the period of social decay and spiritual oppression that once came over his patria. Ivanov, the central character, is plagued by inner conflict and reflects on apparent mistakes of the past countless times throughout. For me, the great moment in Kenneth Branagh's performance as Ivanov comes when friendly Lebedev covertly offers to lend him the money he owes. Having seen the eleven hundred rubles actually be put on the table, in one of the tensest theatrical silences I've witnessed, Branagh just stares at the money before sliding to the floor in a crushed heap. His mental state is beautifully depicted in his physical actions- a confused yet pensive stare, a frail collapse and a spontaneous, dense outburst (emphasized by Lebedev’s comic response to the latter). Branagh here touches the soul and what he shows is how his friend's pity is Ivanov's final undoing. Ivanov is now winning the audience's sympathy also, despite his numerous flaws, evident in anti-Semitic brutality toward his dying wife for instance. That is quite impressive. Chekhov suggests Ivanov's psychic frailty was a characteristically Russian ailment yet Ivanov never loses his backbone. Indeed suicide was his own self-assured decision and I don’t think that simply committing suicide should constrain Ivanov to the status of failure but conversely, he still inspires certain confidence and demands respect, which is a sign of strength in adversity. After all his death should come as no surprise; we know him not but depressed: - even the gunshot that ends the play was cleverly foreshadowed as it also opened the play. Both times I jumped in my seat - reinforcing Ivanov and Russia’s significance.

Anmol Pandey
Chekhok’s Ivanov was a play which I found to be very rich and in terms of plot and character portrayal. The dialogue selection was a true testimony to the genius of Chekov. The play was embellished by numerous examples of symbolism, perhaps the most famous symbol was the gun. It was no coincidence that the play began with a gun shot and ended with one. The gun seemed entirely uninteresting at the beginning, yet it had a more sinister role at the end since it caused the untimely suicide of the protagonist. From this play comes the literary term “Chekhov’s gun” which is used widely in today’s vast field of literature. An object that is seemingly uninteresting at the beginning, which then is found to be more important at the end, is referred to as an example of Chekov’s gun. This play had a great effect on the world of literature, not only was it the birth of “Chekov’s gun” but it also revolutionised plays of the late nineteenth century. Chekov broke the traditional barriers of having a comic villain and a damsel in distress, he tore away from the hackneyed image of actors being melodramatic, he did not value the idea of cheap comedy nor did he show explicit material catering to the taste of the masses, but he actually showed that rich drama can be made with less dramatic actors, with a more plausible plot. Throughout the play, Chekhov delved deep into the mind of Ivanov and often broke the fourth wall to communicate to the audience what emotional turmoil Ivanov was going through at any one point. A lot of the emotions were expressed passively instead of actively with characters experiencing personality decline as opposed to melodramatic shouting and fighting which many other plays did. Many authors followed Chekhov’s footsteps including Arthur Miller, writer of Death of a Salesman published in 1949, which in much the same way depicted the decline of an emotionally ill character, thus evoking feelings of pathos from the audience. Overall, I felt that the play has left me enriched both spiritually and academically. The degree of emotional turmoil was brilliantly portrayed in a moving and exciting manner by not only the protagonist, but also the deuteragonist and tritagonist.


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