“Rummaging in our souls, we often dig up something that ought to have lain there unnoticed. ”
– Anna Karenina
2016 has been a huge year for the arts. 2016 was anything but a challenging year for the Abbey Theatre in particular, a year filled with the most unexpected, brave decisions and thought-provoking plays. In addition to seeing one year round up of #WakingTheFeminists meeting; Ireland’s National Theatre has also had a change of directors welcoming Neil Murray and Graham McLaren to the steering wheel.
The last play of the departing year is none the less but Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, adapted for the stage by Ireland’s very own literature giant Marina Carr.
No doubt, Tolsoty’s masterpiece is a poignant, heavy piece in all senses possible. Starting with the fact that the play lasts approximately three and a half hours (which then pass by quicker than a fly). But above all, it’s a Russian tragedy where, unfortunately, there is no place for a happy ending.
Anna Karenina (played by Lisa Dwan) is a wife, a mother and a woman, who one day falls in love with Vronsky (played by Rory Fleck Byrne), a well-built handsome young man. Tolstoy has never created a weak woman in his work and Karenina isn’t an exception, either. But just as any human being isn’t safe of making mistakes, she gives in to temptation and finally decides to leave not only her husband but also her son Seryoza and the respected position she occupies among the Russian intelligentsia. She looses everything for a chance to live maybe not a happy but an emotionally fulfilled life. Nevertheless, happiness does come but only for a short time before Anna realises that some things can never be replaced or substituted in life; that people remember it when you did them wrong; that people betray, lie and simply get tired of what once excited them; that some of the most tender souls hide behind the thickest walls; that no heart is made out of stone and every heart breaks in its own way.
This absolutely stunning interpretation of a Russian classic is a truly jaw-dropping piece to watch. It should definitely be placed among the strongest pieces produced by the Abbey last year. Unsurprisingly brilliantly directed by Wayne Jordan, the play transports us to pre-revolutionary Russia where the freshly spilled blood is an ever constant contrast to the peacefully falling snow. In a very simple but wonderfully decorated set (by Sarah Bacon) we witness the lives, loves and tragedies of a grand total of 42 characters. Dressed in some of the most eye-catching ribbons and bows (by Sarah Beacon),the piece presents to our display a whole range of mothers, daughters and wives and their everyday struggle. From Dolly (played by Ruth McGill), who perhaps doesn’t even remember what it feels like not to be pregnant and who also is living a tragedy as she has a cheating husband, to Kitty (played by Julie Maguire) a young girl who is only preparing to enter wifehood.
In one single play, we are given the incredible opportunity to see the same problems being dealt with by different people and from alternative angles. With beautifully stylised musical accompaniment (by David Coonan), the cruel Russian reality ideally translates to the Irish stage. Anna Karenina has it all: tragedy with elements of comedy, very nice pace for a long piece, stunning decorations and costumes and some absolutely superb acting. The cast, the majority of whom double and triple, truly gives a performance of a lifetime with each single one of the ensemble being exceptional.
Anna Karenina is a beautiful experience that won’t leave a dry eye. The play runs in The Abbey Theatre until January 28th. For more info or to book tickets: http://www.abbeytheatre.ie/whats_on/event/anna-karenina/