The Donmar Warehouse opens its year-long residency at Wyndham's with Kenneth Branagh as Chekhov's Hamlet-inspired Ivanov (and will come full circle at the end of the season with Branagh directing Jude Law in Hamlet.) Of course, this being early Chekhov, it's less "To be or not to be" and more "Ah, fuck it, Not To Be."
Michael Grandage's production has two draws for denizens of this blog - as well as Branagh himself for the Potter crowd of course, for the Being Human fans there's Andrea Riseborough as Sasha. Her accent here may be upper-class but there's no mistaking the rapid-fire delivery of some very funny lines. In fact Tom Stoppard's translation of the play focuses on bringing out the humour in a melodrama where you don't necessarily expect it (Chekhov somewhat bafflingly described some of his plays as comedies, but Ivanov isn't one of them) and it does work. The stage is littered with grotesque characters and running jokes, while in the middle of it all Branagh's Ivanov has his quiet but steady nervous breakdown. It's a brave but wise choice to underplay this most of the time while so much madness happens around him, and makes for a powerful performance. A very strong start to the Donmar's cut-price West End season, the theatre was packed which bodes well for the rest of the year's run (especially as this is probably the least obviously commercial of the four plays.)
Ivanov by Anton Chekhov, translated by Tom Stoppard, is booking until the 29th of November at Wyndham's Theatre.