The Death of Ivan Ilyich

Ivan has done everything he was meant to do. He worked hard, he married, he had children and he moved to the country. He is middle aged, middle class and middlingly happy. He snaps at his family and worries about the minutiae of pen on the sofa and handbags left lying around. However, in the blink of an eye, mortality comes barrelling towards him when an apparently trivial home decorating injury quickly develops into something worse.

A huge story for a Fringe production to tackle

Doctors offer all kinds of diagnoses and treatment, some more believable than others, but Ivan Ilyich swiftly knows that he is dying. When confronted with the pain, invisibility and loneliness of his condition he begins to reflect upon his life choices and the very nature of pain and death. For his family and colleagues, his death is an awkward embarrassment; they are relieved not to be dying themselves but also disturbed by the obvious truth. As Ivan exclaims 'we are all doomed to suffer this utter horror'. This story is not a cheery one. Only in the character of Ivan’s endlessly kind end-of-life nurse, Gerasim, are we allowed a more hopeful view of human nature.

Written in the 1880s as a novella by the literary giant that was Leo Tolstoy, The Death of Ivan Ilyich wrestles with themes of happiness, family, superficiality and of course, death. Tolstoy became somewhat obsessed with death and the concept of a life well lived in his later years. He himself walked out of his family home, and out on his wife of 48 years, to die a handful of days later in a railway station of pneumonia in the depths of the parochial Russian winter. He lived and died as he wrote.

It is a huge story for a Fringe production to tackle, but Luke Ofield and Pip O’Neill have given it a good go. For such a morbid premise the show starts very frothily and makes good use of its contemporary setting. There are a surprising number of big laughs generated with knowing jokes at the expense of the impersonal medical industry and millennial ‘go getter’ culture. Ivan is variously prescribed ‘Yakult’, drugs and a course of mindfulness for his illness. One of the more poignant moments was the arrival of a procession of Amazon parcels for the invalid as the family attempt to replace care and empathy with retail goods.

For me, the acting was a bit hit and miss. Kevin Cherry, as Ivan, delivered with gravity in the latter half as things took a darker turn. Liam Murray-Scott believably and pleasingly interpreted a modern version of Gerasim, but was less convincing with the dislikable Schwartz. The juxtaposition of contemporary comedy with dark themes can be done brilliantly but doesn’t quite knit together here and leaves the audience neither rolling in the aisles nor seriously contemplative. The show suffers when compared to its source material for a general lack of weight and impact but in itself is a well turned out piece.

Reviews by Julia French

Rialto Theatre

The Death of Ivan Ilyich

★★★
Sweet Werks 1

Antigone Alone

★★★★★
Latest Music Bar

Quiz Night: The Musical

★★★
Sweet Dukebox

The O.S. Map Fan Club

★★
The Warren: The Hat

Persuasion

★★★★★

Since you’re here…

… we have a small favour to ask. We don't want your money to support a hack's bar bill at Abattoir, but if you have a pound or two spare, we really encourage you to support a good cause. If this review has either helped you discover a gem or avoid a turkey, consider doing some good that will really make a difference.

You can donate to the charity of your choice, but if you're looking for inspiration, there are three charities we really like.

Mama Biashara
Kate Copstick’s charity, Mama Biashara, works with the poorest and most marginalised people in Kenya. They give grants to set up small, sustainable businesses that bring financial independence and security. That five quid you spend on a large glass of House White? They can save someone’s life with that. And the money for a pair of Air Jordans? Will take four women and their fifteen children away from a man who is raping them and into a new life with a moneymaking business for Mum and happiness for the kids.
Donate to Mama Biashara now

Theatre MAD
The Make A Difference Trust fights HIV & AIDS one stage at a time. Their UK and International grant-making strategy is based on five criteria that raise awareness, educate, and provide care and support for the most vulnerable in society. A host of fundraising events, including Bucket Collections, Late Night Cabarets, West End Eurovision, West End Bares and A West End Christmas continue to raise funds for projects both in the UK and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Donate to Theatre MAD now

Acting For Others
Acting for Others provides financial and emotional support to all theatre workers in times of need through the 14 member charities. During the COVID-19 crisis Acting for Others have raised over £600,000 to support theatre workers affected by the pandemic.
Donate to Acting For Others now

Performances

Location

The Blurb

Ivan Ilych doesn’t give dying a passing thought. He's had a nice life. But one day, death announces itself to him and, to his huge surprise, he is brought face to face with his own mortality. An exploration of the life unlived, Unmasked Theatre presents a modern, highly physical adaptation of Tolstoy’s lesser known masterpiece. After 2 previous successful years ('Antony and Cleopatra': Best of Brighton Fringe Award, IYAF 2018; 'The Writers’ Bloc': Nominated for Best New Play, 2017) Unmasked Theatre returns with haunting live sound and sharp prose.

Most Popular See More

SIX

From £29.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Matilda the Musical

From £25.00

More Info

Find Tickets

The Play That Goes Wrong

From £24.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Everybody's Talking About Jamie

From £24.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Heathers The Musical

From £18.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Tina - The Tina Turner Musical

From £13.00

More Info

Find Tickets