Monday, November 28

Anna Karenina – Crucible Theatre

As the house lights go down, a series of spotlights reveal a lone figure: Anna Karenina. “This is my story”, she says.

But she is not in this alone. Two main stories are intertwined. The titular character, Anna, an unfulfilled wife and mother, meets Count Vronsky, an officer in the Russian army; they begin a passionate affair, and the consequences are dramatic. At the same time, Constantin Levin, an idealistic young landowner, is courting Kitty, Anna’s sister-in-law, and is learning what it means to experience heartbreak and learn responsibility.

Helen Edmundson’s adaptation of the epic novel by Leo Tolstoy takes a story that we think we are familiar with – but probably don’t know as well as we think we do and makes it accessible to a new generation. “Where are you now?” Anna and Levin repeatedly ask of one another, cleverly helping the audience to follow the characters through the key moments in their stories, and also giving the characters the opportunity to reflect on what has happened to them.

Aside from the writing, it is Adelle Leoncé who shines in this production. Her characterisation was outstanding from start to finish, from Anna’s initial acceptance of her family situation, through her discovery of true love, to her subsequent descent into depression and desperation. It can be hard to make the character of Anna sympathetic; in the context of 1870s Russia, by choosing her lover over her husband she really brings all of her pain and suffering on herself.  However, Leoncé brought a level of nuance and conviction to Anna that really made me want things to end differently for her, even if I understood why they couldn’t.

The decision by the creative team to defy casting stereotypes succeeded in making me look at the characters in a fresh light, and I am certain that every member of the audience was able to identify with someone they saw on stage. Personally, I would have liked to have seen more of a spark to Anna’s initial encounters with Vronsky as well as even more contrast between the characters of Karenin, Anna’s husband, and Vronsky, her lover. Equally, for a play about love, I was surprised to find a greater degree of authenticity in the scenes depicting anger and desperation.

Having said that, director Anthony Lau has ably directed the play for the Crucible’s intimate thrust stage, helped enormously by the stunning lighting design by Jack Knowles, which used dramatic shapes and colours to create geography and mood from a blank canvas. I loved the idea – brought to life by designer Georgia Lowe and movement director Chi-San Howard – of taking the feel of the period and revising it into our current context, particularly in the evolving look created for Anna and the vibrant elements of the Russian aristocracy which have to be seen to be believed!

Launching Sheffield Theatres’ 50th anniversary season, this new production of a true classic is definitely one to watch, especially for those of us like Anna who are just searching for their happy ending.

Anna Karenina is playing at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield until Saturday 26th February. Relaxed, socially distanced, audio described, signed and captioned performances are available. More information and tickets can be found here: https://www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk/events/anna-karenina

Reviewer: Jo Tillotson

Reviewed: 10th February 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★

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