"Hard Hitting Play Worth Seeing"
by Sascha Cooper for remotegoat on 08/05/19

Unmasked Theatre launched their Brighton Fringe with a modern adaptation of Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Ilyich, which not only explored the aspect of losing a loved one, but the full impact of death on those they leave behind. Whilst Tolstoy can be a difficult author to fully adapt to the stage due to the various complicated themes in his work, Luke Ofield and Pip O'Neill capture the spirit of Tolstoy's world well.

The only thing observed is that the beginning of the play could be tidied up a little more in the sense of making the transition between present and flashbacks to before Ivan's death a little more clear. It was only when Ivan walked on stage that it actually made sense. Also in a house warming scene, there was a sense of the stage being too crowded and too many overlaps in talking, so certain aspects of the text were lost. However, after that, the play really got on its feet and delivered a strong dramatic piece.

The whole cast was strong and brought a sense of well roundedness to all they did. Kevin Cherry played the title role with a raw sense of awareness of his own mortality as he became more sick. He brought a sense of wonder as he questioned whether he could do any better and slowly lost control as his family and friends changed around him. This in itself showed Cherry's wide range of emotions and sensitive handling of the reality of being faced with the Grim Reaper.

Sarah Widdas showed us frustrated wife Praskovya as she likewise faced the harsh reality of looking after an invalid. Her connection with Cherry was a lovely one as she realised what she had to sacrifice in order to survive with him and it was lovely to see her journey as she realised that she had to look after herself as well as everyone else. It was engaging and completely truthful.

A bright young star in the making is Bronte Sandwell, who played their daughter Lisa. With youthful vitality, she may have been absorbed in the world of boys and instagram, but as we discovered, it was her way of distracting herself from the reality of losing her father. There was one particular moment in this show where Sandwell allowed her more vulnerable side to show as she shares an intimate moment with her father in the early hours of the morning. This gave us a glimpse into how truly fragile she was despite trying to keep her father away from the fact she had stayed out too late.

George Todd who played Lisa's brother Vasya equally showed youthful vitality as he showed us his vice of sport and naivity as his way of escaping what was in front of him. It was good to see him as an actor just staying in the present moment as his character developed. Would have liked to have seen more of him however.

Then the chorus of various characters including doctors, friends and annoying work colleagues took centre stage in the form of Matt Turpin, Bradley Thomas and Liam Murray-Scott. Between them and some rather slick costume changes, they brought about a harsh sense of the nastier side of death as well as the confusing one where diagnosis is concerned. It can be difficult playing different characters in something like this, but they handled each change well and brought home the fact that death can change someone in an instant and not always for the best. The truth will out as the saying goes.

The Death of Ivan Iyich may not be a play for those who are currently grieving or processing emotions associated with it, but Unmasked Theatre do provide in their programme a number for the Bereavement trust who are qualified to help, as well as the usual disclaimers. This is a very strong piece with a chance to be excellent.

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