Question: Do people really want to see another production with Tony award winning actor Ralph Fiennes in the role of very depressed human slightly off-center character? You bet your pet cat's cat nip-laced squeezey toys they would! Well, maybe I should speak for myself! However, if you think this is going to be a starry-eyed review forget it! Even I have my pride, sense of decorum, and I'm dangerous with a diss! No drooling here..
We first see Fiennes before the official start of the play as he is seated on a very dimly lit stage in character, reading as to give you a head start on the first opening scene of Ivanov. I must admit to wondering if Fiennes heard any of the giggling and whispering prompted by his lone appearance on stage, especially by front row ticket holders as they shuffled in. Prompting heart palpitations in some fans and sizing up by the more curious male members of the audience. None-the-less a nice touch even if it did hinder any possible reading of the program before the start of the performance. Me thinks director Kent and Mr. Fiennes knew what stir that would cause,especially on the heels of the success of The English Patient and Fiennes' Oscar nomination. (Joking) I have to admit as wonderful as it was I found it a bit unnerving! Made me wonder if he was reading a novel destined to become his next film or play. Well, as they say, "Why ask why"?
Mr. Fiennes in the guise of Nikolai Ivanov is compelling (even if at times his performance is reminiscent of his Hamlet). Woe is he! He effectively relays his loss of youth; his misery of failed career and marriage. He surcomes to the bigotry he once thought void within himself. All this with a sense of self-mocking and a tad bit of humour.
Trials of life have worn of the character so thin you hope you never have to spend any amount of time with Ivanov in an elevator, stuck between floors, on your way to a job interview or wedding!
Harriet Walter (Sense and Sensibility) is absolutely heart breaking as Anna. She manages to convince the audience that she is ill not only by her pale appearance but with her voice, that rattle of from within her throat could convince you that she truly does have tuberculosis!
Ms. Walter's Anna wears her loneliness, with a sense befuddled dignity.. Anna has given up wealth, her family, religion, and her health for the man she loves; to live in what might consider near poverty (one almost expects to hear Tammy Wynette belt out 'Stand By Your Man' any minute) Anna maintains her self-respect in hopes of recapturing the man she first married. However, it is Ivanov's possible disgust towards her, along with his self-loathing that will ravage Anna far more than the tuberculosis itself!Although in all honesty one wonders if Ivanov at times silent cruelty to Anna is because he sees her as his downfall or is it act of kindness.
The play's stage is further set at the home of long time friend, former classmate, and now debtor Pavel Lebedev played effortlessly by Bill Patterson (Truly, Madly Deeply). Lebedev a kind man who is saddled with the unpleasant task of having to ask Ivanov for the long over due repayment of a loan. Realizing Ivanov's situation doesn't make the situation any easier especially since he still holds his friend in high regard.
It is here a party given in honour of daughter Sasha's birthday. And also the place that set the tragic wheels in motion. A little reminiscent of a dinner party at your least favorite relative's home
Then there is your thrifty *Auntie* Zinaida Savishna portrayed by Rosemary McHale, who instead of feeding her guest a proper meal spends the evening trying to pan off her awful gooseberry jam, harassing the butler, flitting about making bigoted remarks, and turning down the lights in order to hold down on household expenses! Every family's got one.
The party guest consist of people you'd love to have voodoo dolls of. With pins in toll just for the sake of making them flinch in order to tone down their stupidity, arrogance, and bigotry! Of course there's the guest whose piano playing is so horrid, you just want to drop the piano lid on his hands. (which adds to humour of a rather absurd party)! They spend the evening drinking, gambling, moaning, and making catty remarks about Ivanov and Anna. The hosts and guests, however, are obnoxious enough to hold your interest. (And I did forget to mention these are friends of the Ivanovs?) They are people we like to stand back in judgment of, but deny ever being like!
Justine Waddell as young Sasha. is mature, and level headed. She is Ivanov's defender. Sasha believes she is Ivanov's one salvation--the only person who seems to understand Ivanov's agony. She is, yes, *the other younger woman*. A further depiction on how we even fool ourselves!
In my book this was far better than a evening at home watching Melrose Place or renting the video BAPS and running it backwards, just for the sake of saying you did it. Of course, as I said it's my opinion! Grant it, IVANOV did achieve rave reviews on both sides of the Atlantic!
"spitting range row"
For those of you who have never been to Almeida Theatre it is, well, not exactly what you would expect (especially after attending a production at the Barbicon theatre complex)! The theatre is small, you will find seating to be rather cozy-- not exactly plushy sitting! Almost bleacher like. The stage itself is built just inches off the floor, so much so that if you stood up you would almost be eye to eye with the cast members, thus relieving worries of a stiff neck at the end of a performance! You are seated within inches of the stage itself. You watch items of clothing, buttons, hair barrette fly across the stage. You might even have the honor of a well-known actor spit on you (oh happy day)! The Almeida did remind me of some of the off-the-beaten-path theatres in the Village and Alphabet City. It has its charm!
The drawbacks of spitting row range is that you have no sense of perspective and when there are more than two people on stage is it very hard to see what's going on with the rest of cast. This tended to be a little discerning, especially during the more dramatic scenes. Mind you, if it's you intent to just stare and drool over one particular actor then spitting range row was meant for you.
If you attend a performance in mid-winter dress accordingly, the theatre tends to be a bit on the chilly side. However, not enough to make it unbearable. Also, if you do have *spiting range row* seating make sure you are well rested! Not wise to attend any theatre performance having just landed in London from the States! Give yourself a good day or two to adjust to the time change. Face it, no one wants your head on their shoulder during a performance especially if it's on the shoulder of someone you don't know! You could also run the risk of falling forward. Not a pretty sight!
The great thing about the Almeida experience is watching the British playgoers in action! Not much different than American audiences, really. The British seem to chit-chat less! Watching some of the males who might have been reluctantly dragged to see IVANOV was a treat. Their assessing what all the hoopla was all about. Many left the theatre satisfied that they had spent their evening well and probably feeling far less threatened by this Fiennes fellow (even if they did miss the Football championships on the telly or at the neighborhood pub)! Keep in mind this is from the viewpoint of an American. Of course, you will always have the person suffering the *I don't get it* syndrome. Such is theatre going!
Information on The Almeida Theatre
The Almeida is a struggling theatre under the direction of Ian McDiarmid and Jonathan Kent. It may not be the Barbicon or the *West End*but it can boast of the equally dramatic, dazzling performances and direction. The Almeida can boast of world class actors, performers and productions. What's a little spit amongst friends? The other wonderful thing is that tickets are so affordable you'll almost feel like you're cheating the theatre company! Well-- maybe.
The Almeida Theatre located in the quaint Islington section of London on Almeida Street (no kidding). The theatre is so non-assuming that if it weren't for the Almeida Pub next door you would almost miss the theatre if you didn't have the address! The community in which the theatre is in has plenty of character and colour. With an interesting mix of residents. You might consider dinning there before or after a performance, since the cost of dinning is rather reasonable!
To find out more about:
Almeida Theatre Site