Theater Criticism: Anna Karenina, Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, Four Stars

Anna Karenina

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

Neil Cooper

Four stars

If life without passionate love is life unlived, as discussed in Lesley Hart’s new interpretation of Leo Tolstoy’s 19th-century classic, then where, after all, are the remains of the relationship between the dashing Count Vronsky and the play’s eponymous heroine? ?

Sparks fly when Anna meets Vronsky for the first time on a crowded train platform in Moscow. Anna is on a mercy mission to resolve her brother’s failing marriage. Vronsky is there to meet his mother. The nature of these visits says volumes about what follows as the pair embark on a whirlwind and ultimately destructive affair. Meanwhile, for teenage Kitty and her potential suitor Levin, their seemingly more uncomplicated love affair develops problems of their own.

Hart and director Polina Kalinina take us on a not-so-cheerful dance through the well-choreographed world Anna and Vronsky are trying to escape from in this co-production between the Lyceum and Bristol Old Vic. Lindsey Campbell and Robert Akodoto express the couple’s doomed passion in a thoroughly modern way, with Tallulah Greive and Ray Sesay providing a pretty counterpoint as Kitty and Levin.

While Hart peppers her characters’ generally adult exchanges with profanity throughout, her meek approach seems to suggest that some sort of deliverance is possible, even if it’s just a woman’s right to use as many rude words as men.

The formal layout of the dining table, ballroom, racetrack and even the bedroom are carefully arranged by motion director Vicki Manderson, while Anna and Vronsky lose themselves in freer possibilities.

The future is accentuated even further in designer Emma Bailey’s modernist interior through the metallic creaks and sensurround clatter of Xana’s industrial soundtrack. The only thing stuck in the past is the attitude of men unable to change diapers, let alone take responsibility for their actions.

In the center of the room, a sculpture hangs from the ceiling, metal wrapped around metal in a seemingly unbreakable grip. In the end, however, it’s not the only thing torn apart in a violent tug-of-war of love that leaves all passion exhausted.

Grace Reader

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