Half through this play I was praying for Kenneth Branagh to be sexier. I’m not sure that I’m a good judge of sexiness in men so I may have missed it. I thought Ivanov was supposed to be a moody, interesting and sexily messy and Kenneth Branagh was more of a cuddly mess.
Before the interval I kept thinking just how good Branagh is going to be when he gets to play Uncle Vanya. The problem is that he should probably have been making me think of Doctor Astrov (from the same play) who is just as listless and possibly as self-pitying. Of course Ivanov seems to have given up on love and life while the Doctor still does passion.
In the second half we got glimpses of fire from this Ivanov, just in case anyone wondered what all the fuss about Kenneth Branagh was. All the same I didn’t feel that he possessed that magnetism that had attracted his wife and was now pulling on the daughter of his friend.
I wondered if it might be the play that doesn’t really allow you opportunity to see and understand why Ivanov is or was such an attractive person and personality. I keep saying this in my blog entries but we were more told that shown what Ivanov is like and it is never really explained what got him into his present funk. Obviously you can guess at factors like debt, no longer being in love with his wife and crossing the threshold of forty but I didn’t feel that I was getting the full insight into the why of Ivanov.
The play rattled along at a pleasingly brisk pace which I tend to think is a good thing for Chekhov. Tom Stoppard also played up the comedy in some scenes especially those featuring Lorcan Cranitch (Borkin), Malcolm Sinclair (Shabelsky) and Kevin R McNally (Lebedev). Also having just checked another translation it appears that in one major self pitying and potentially histrionic speech from Ivanov was peppered by Stoppard and/or the director with comic interjections from Lebedev and delivered in a deliberate monotone by Branagh. My description makes it sound appalling but actually I was rather impressed at the time. If the speech had been done straight I’m not sure it would have worked as well.
I couldn’t work out whether I was supposed to like Tom Hiddleston’s Doctor Lvov, I suspect not but I would have liked to know more about his motivation.
I would also like to say that there is no such thing as too much Kevin R.McNally.