Anna Karenina: Review

Síofra Ní Shluaghadháin reviews Marina Carr’s adaptation of the classic Russian novel at the Abbey Theatre.[br]BRINGING a novel of any scope to the stage comes with its perils and challenges, and it could be argued that adapting Leo Tolstoy’s epic love story could be one of the most difficult.Running at the impressive length of three hours and twenty minutes, this production gives new life to Tolstoy’s one hundred and forty-year-old work. It bends the perspective of the narrative to present the audience with something that is strikingly relevant to the world today.Marina Carr, one of Ireland’s pre-eminent playwrights, along with director Wayne Jordan and a stellar cast, come together to present something that is a leap forward for the Abbey. This comes after a largely staid year focused around the 1916 ‘Waking the Nation’ commemoration.This version of Anna Karenina is one that fits neatly into the flow of Carr’s work to date. Anna (played powerfully and convincingly by Lisa Dwan) is a female character who takes control of her own life, to her own detriment.This, however, is not simply a tragic love story. Peppered with references to “the woman question”, and issues of women’s agency, modern politics and history are woven together seamlessly. This is the story of a woman in a society on the brink of collapse.This is a narrative, not of Anna Karenina driven mad by the consequences of her subversive love affair, but of the ostracising of a woman who dared to challenge the rigid structures that were designed to run her life. This is a version that is, measure for measure, both faithless and most faithful to its source.Marina Carr also brings to this production a personal aesthetic of sparseness. Both visually and in the soundscape, the harsh, empty spaces of a Russian winter are evoked again and again.In regards to set and lighting design, Sarah Bacon and Sinéad Wallace prove that less is certainly more in a production such as this. Functionality is the key to the stage, and there is a beautifully realised counterpoint between the bare vulnerability of the production and the lavishness both of Tolstoy’s original, and the social context in which it was set.Importantly, this production shows a change in direction for the Abbey. This play, with its strong female-led cast and production team, along with a female playwright, show that perhaps the furore which surrounded ‘Waking the Nation’, followed by the reactionary ‘Waking the Feminists’, may have set the wheels in motion for some much-needed change.Anna Karenina runs from December 7th – January 28th 2017 at the Abbey Theatre.