Review: Ivanov by 5toMidnight
5toMidnight enters the local theatre scene with their debut performance: a local adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s Ivanov. The first in a planned five part series of a selection of Chekhov’s plays, 5toMidnight aims to bring Chekhov’s gritty social realism to a modern Singaporean audience while continuing to develop their skills and craft with each new production.
In a sense, Lepark provides an interesting backdrop for the play. Utilizing the lack of natural stage lights to represent the poor conditions some of the characters live in makes the stage appear badly lit and enshrouded in a cold darkness. Floorboards bang noisily as characters storm across them, and there is the sense that this is a seriously unhappy family, with honestly awful living conditions, lit with little more than a table lamp and the torchlight from cast members’ handphones. Even when portraying a more well to do family, all it took was more lightbulbs to completely change to atmosphere to a more lively one. 5toMidnight also cleverly uses the glass walls of the venue to add dramatic effect, literally treating the walls as barriers to inside and outside the house, and allowing characters to peer in and out, such as stumbling upon a scandalous affair, or playing with sparklers outside.
Unfortunately, although atmospheric for part of the play, the set ultimately does more to hinder than help. Much of the time, the light fails to be strong enough to illuminate the casts’ faces, particularly when it came to the monologues. The sounds that came from the floorboards also eventually became more jarring than atmospheric.
In this version, 5toMidnight has attempted to localize Chekhov’s script for a Singaporean audience, changing the races of the characters and editing the language to include Singlish and Malay phrases. Often, the edited lines find themselves at odds with the original lines that 5toMidnight has decided to retain, coming off as haphazard and disjointed, causing actors to trip up and lose the momentum of their otherwise decent delivery. Ivanov also had difficulty with its pacing, and scenes suffered from multiple dips in energy throughout its duration, making it increasingly difficult to draw audiences back into its world. The performance would probably have benefitted from an intermission, allowing the audience to better digest the play and gather their thoughts.
One beacon of hope is that when interacting with each other, cast members did show a little chemistry, particularly during arguments. Although some cast members showed potential, too much of the time they were bogged down by an awkward script and bad lighting. Ivanov’s characters are also mostly adults in their 30s or older, and many of the cast members who played these roles lacked conviction, and were unable to bring across that maturity in their performance.
Although armed with the right intentions, Ivanov was an ambitious piece that perhaps was a case of 5toMidnight punching above their weight, a brave but problematic venture into a Russian classic. Nonetheless, as the first production, one hopes that they will learn from this and ultimately create an amazing Chekhov piece in their next production.