WEEK IN REVIEW

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THE PLAY: IVANOV:

OVERVIEW:

Jonathan Kent directs an Almeida Theatre production of Chekhov's early and rarely performed farcical tragedy of a profoundly unhappy man in a new translation by David Hare, designed by Tobias Hoheisel with Ralph Fiennes as the self-lacerating hero. The cast also includes Harriet Walter, Bill Paterson and Oliver Ford Davies.

CRITICAL VIEW: Paul Taylor gave high praise to "Kent's fine production", Hare's "robustly persuasive translation" and "Fiennes's excellent performance". "The entire company is first-rate," gloried The Mail. "Piercingly painful ... blissfully funny ... a great production of a great and unfairly neglected play," revelled The Telegraph. "Bit by bit the elements of this production fall into a proportion that is haunting and disturbing," nodded The FT. "Breathtaking ... has abundant theatrical vitality and touches deep emotional chords ... joyous," cheered The Guardian. "For all the finesse and power of Fiennes's performance, the impact is strangely muted ... a surprisingly heavy handed production," whinged the Standard.

ON VIEW: At the Almeida, London N1 (0171-359 4404), day seats and returns only.

OUR VIEW: Tremendous, splendidly vivid theatre ricocheting between laughter and tears. Beg for a ticket.

THE FILM: MICHAEL:

OVERVIEW: Nora When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle Ephron directs another romantic comedy (co-written with sister Delia) with resurrected star John Travolta as an unusually slob-like archangel who comes to earth and messes with has-been hack William Hurt and "angel expert" Andie MacDowell.

CRITICAL VIEW: Ryan Gilbey was deeply sceptical. "You may feel like snapping his wings off." "More arch than angel ... sloppy and unstructured ... slow, meandering, pointless," yawned The Standard. "Everything about Travolta's performance is slapdash and self-indulgent and there's not a thing Nora Ephron can do about it," winced The Spectator. "Anyone untouched by the man will be rushing headlong towards the cinema exit," scoffed The Times. "Underneath the uplift, there's a subtle, quirky centre to the movie that's a delight," declared The Telegraph. "Hugely enjoyable if soft-centred. The cast is impeccable ... Travolta: feel the star quality," revelled The FT.

ON VIEW: Cert PG, 105 mins. On general release.

OUR VIEW: A queasy blend of cynicism and sentiment. You'll like it or loathe it.

THE OPERA: CARMEN:

OVERVIEW In the wake of Raymond Gubbay's dire "populist" Albert Hall production (ie sold to those who have never seen opera and can't judge it against anything), Welsh National Opera began a tour of Bizet's greatest hit starring Sara Fulgoni in a new staging by Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser, conducted by Robert Spano.

CRITICAL VIEW: Stephen Walsh admired "a memorable text-based staging ... Spano conducts with crisp authority ... There is no mistaking his musical grasp which he shares with the whole production." "Hit me in the solar plexus. I thought I knew the opera backwards and was bored with it, but here it had a freshness and force that allowed me to hear it as if for the first time," rejoiced The Telegraph. "Every note, every word, has been weighed and considered anew. You may think you know Carmen but you will still be on the edge of your seat at the raw human tragedy," trumpeted The Times. "Has its heart in the right place. Unfortunately that is not enough ... Spano and the WNO orchestra alone seemed to have the measure of Carmen," worried the FT.

ON VIEW: Touring to Cardiff, Bristol, Birmingham, Southampton, Oxford, Liverpool & Swansea.

OUR VIEW: The dark-toned Fulgoni leads an excellent, meticulously directed cast. The real McCoy.

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