September 1, 2019 admin

London Theatre 1 Reviews: Doctor Zhivago

Review by Chris Omaweng

There is a lot of ground to cover in Dr Zhivago, both in terms of time and geography. The show starts in 1903 and finishes in 1930 and covers a large area of Russia, though most of it is concentrated in either Moscow or in ‘Yuriatin’, which a cursory online search will reveal is really the city of Perm, about 706 miles from Moscow. This may well be, on one level, yet another musical with a love triangle, but here, with many characters as well as socio-economic and political upheaval, and both World War One and the Russian Revolution to deal with, this is far from a typical romantic show.

Just as well, then, that there’s narration, courtesy of Lucy Drever, whose calm and collected voice rang out across the Cadogan Hall, keeping the audience up to speed. But even so, I felt it necessary to look up the storyline afterwards (a synopsis was provided in the programme, or so I am told: somebody somewhere had miscalculated how many people wanted a programme, and there weren’t any left by the time I arrived at the venue). This is one of those shows that needs a full production to be properly understood, at least for those (like yours truly) who haven’t read the 1957 book or seen the 1965 movie.

Adam Hoskins, Lambert Jackson Productions’ go-to conductor, ably led a large orchestra and a choir, the latter comprised of musical theatre students from the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music & Dance. As Ramin Karimloo, who played the title role, pointed out at curtain call, this was an orchestra that only received the score the day before the concert – quite an achievement indeed. It is just about sufficiently varied, with rallying numbers for the troops interspersed alongside the kind of emotionally charged showtunes that are difficult for musical lovers to be moved by.

Zhivago, a bona fide medical professional in case anyone was wondering what kind of a ‘doctor’ he may or may not be, marries Tonia Gromeko (Kelly Mathieson) but encounters Lara Guishar (Celinde Schoenmaker) in unusual circumstances. Zhivago ends up treating a man shot by mistake by Lara, who intended to shoot Victor Komarovsky (Matthew Woodyatt) because (as far as I could deduce) she is fed up of being in, to use contemporary terminology, an abusive relationship of some kind: the doctor falls in love with her, although she goes on to marry Pasha (Charlie McCullagh).

There are revolutionary forces at work, and so it seems nearly every able-bodied man is engaged in military operations either for or against the government of the day. With a rather majestic score, the show does not so much focus on the ongoing combat but rather on its consequences. Families are being torn apart as men are sent to far-flung parts of Russia, and for me, with so many people scattered across such a large area, it seems somewhat contrived that Zhivago and Lara should find themselves repeatedly in such close proximity that Zhivago at one point actively avoids seeing her because, y’see, he’s already married, and so is she. It’s a little like War Horse, where horse and owner, both having been sent to war, find each other again despite the millions of men and the millions of horses. It’s unlikely it would really have happened, but it makes for good theatre all the same.

‘On The Edge of Time’ has Zhivago and Lara in a passionate and poignant duet, but perhaps the most hair-raising moment was the quintet number ‘Love Finds You’. Michael Weller’s book does well to navigate a complicated plotline and present it in a show that ends at a reasonable time. A stirring and spirited production.