Review: Anna Karenina, Brockley Jack

“What happens if you can’t stop?”

Helen Edmundson’s adaptation of Anna Karenina really is a clever thing. Taking the huge scale of Tolstoy’s Russian epic novel and translating it into something genuinely theatrical, and new, is no mean feat. Last seen in London at the Arcola (where I think I underestimated it a tad), Arrow & Traps Theatre Company have brought it to the intimacy of Brockley Jack’s black box studio and it’s an impressively mounted production. 

Edmundson’s major innovation is to reframe the story as an existential conversation between its two main characters Anna and Levin, whose lives are inextricably interlinked through their family connections (she’s his sister-in-law’s sister-in-law, I think) but actually only ever intersect once. Thus they relate tales of their experiences while debating faith and freedom, responsibility and love, what it means to really live. Continue reading “Review: Anna Karenina, Brockley Jack”

Review: Anna Karenina, Royal Exchange

“Love is just a better way to hurt each other”

Ellen McDougall’s debut production for the Royal Exchange is actually a trans-Pennine affair as once Anna Karenina wraps up in Manchester, the show will be heading over the hills (stopping at a Betty’s Tea Room en route as must surely be done) to the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds, along with Chris Urch’s The Rolling Stone with which it plays in rep. It is always pleasing to see this kind of regional collaboration actually coming to fruition as it does provide reassurances that the arts are finding the best ways to work through these financially straitened times.

It helps of course when the work is of this quality. Jo Clifford’s adaptation of Tolstoy’s famed novel is very much unafraid to cut and reconfigure the story into something overtly theatrical as characters break out of the narrative to introduce themselves and provide short cuts through the author’s tangled web of nineteenth century Russian aristocracy. Clifford, and McDougall, also pull in the focus so that the counterpoint of Anna’s fast-burning passion with the dashing Vronsky and Levin’s hard-fought love for Katy becomes the beating heart of the matter. Continue reading “Review: Anna Karenina, Royal Exchange”

DVD Review: Anna Karenina (2000)

 “I need to know if he still loves me”

Joe Wright’s film version of Anna Karenina was, for me, a hugely under-rated piece of work, a sumptuous feast for the eyes in his inimitable style. But I can see it might not be to everyone tastes, which is where the 2000 mini-series should step in as an ideal replacement. Stretching out luxuriously over four hours, David Blair’s production of Tolstoy’s classic, adapted by Allan Cubitt, is something quite close to triumphant, not least for a desperately compelling performance from Helen McCrory as Anna but from a detailed realisation of so many aspects of the novel.

For though the tragic love triangle of Anna, Karenin and Vronsky is the best known strand of the story, Levin and Kitty’s relationship is just as significant in the grand scheme of things and there’s also room here for a fully-fleshed version of Anna’s brother Oblonsky and his wife Dolly. The way in which the multiple lines are followed is expertly done and begins to do some justice to the weight tome that is the piece of literature on which it is based. Continue reading “DVD Review: Anna Karenina (2000)”

Film Review: Anna Karenina

 

”I’d rather live life wishing I hadn’t rather than wishing I had”

Today I was lucky enough to catch an early screening of Joe Wright’s new film, Anna Karenina starring Keira Knightley in the title role, which is certain to be divisive with its unique approach. Tom Stoppard has been employed to distil Tolstoy’s weighty tome into something more manageable and his adaptation clocks in at a shade over 2 hours. Remaining largely faithful to the novel, Stoppard’s focus is on exploring different kinds of love, and so whilst the focus is mainly on Anna herself as she negotiates the tumultuous affair with a young cavalryman that sets her against her husband and the might of Russian society, he also ensures that the subplot featuring the agrarian Levin’s attempts to woo the object of his affections is kept in to provide a neat counterpoint.

Presented with a classic of literature and wanting to avoid predictability as far as period dramas are concerned, Wright’s main conceit has been to reconceptualise the whole thing in a deeply theatrical manner, literally. He treats the story as a piece of theatre, sometimes being played out in front of an audience, sometimes as backstage drama, but always with a defined fluidity and through-line. This exceedingly stylised and highly choreographed approach has a huge cinematic sweep which I adored, but it does soon calm down into something more measured and at key moments, it opens out with some breath-taking transformations.  Continue reading “Film Review: Anna Karenina”

Review: Anna Karenina, Arcola

“If you only knew what I would give to love you freely”

This production of Anna Karenina at the Arcola Theatre is a revival of one from 1992 by Shared Experience, presented here by The Piano Removal Company, a new company formed out of a recently graduating group from the Birmingham School of Acting, whose final show there was this. Helen Edmundson’s adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s novel reworks the story into a conversation between the two central characters of Anna and Levin as they debate freedom versus duty whilst their stories are told in rapidly-played episodes, hers of pursuing an illicit love at the expense of her son and her position in society and his of trying to find meaning in life, even if it means losing the chance to love.

Director Max Webster wears his previous connections to Complicite on his sleeve and the resulting visual aesthetic therefore feels quite familiar: the swift scene changes and multiple role-playing, the exaggerated physicality of much of the movement and moments of striking imagery through simply used props. It works well, creating some elegant scenes of candlelit beauty, spotlit conversations and paper snowfalls as well as working in a wry sense of humour with Vronsky’s omnipresence. But there is just so much of this physical staging with its relentless changes which doesn’t always add value to the production and pad out the running time unnecessarily. Continue reading “Review: Anna Karenina, Arcola”