Anna Karenina (2023), Royal Lyceum Theatre, Review

Rating (out of 5)
Robert Akodoto as Vronksy and Lindsey Campbell as Anna Karenina (photo credit, Robbie McFadzean)
Show details
Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh and Bristol Old Vic
Polina Kalinina (director), Lesley Hart (writer), Emma Bailey (designer), Mark Henderson (lighting designer), Xana (music designer), Vicki Manderson, (movement director), Debi Pirie (assistant director)

Robert Akodoto (Vronsky), Lindsey Campbell (Anna Karenina), Stephen McCole (Karenin),
Angus Miller (Stiva), Jamie Marie Leary (Dolly), Tallulah Greive ( Kitty), Ray Sesay (Levin), Robbie Scott (Seryozha).
Running time

"All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. Everything was in confusion in the Oblonskys’ house. The wife had discovered that the husband was carrying on an intrigue with a French governess, and had announced that she could not go on living in the same house with him.

Set in 1870s St. Petersburg, this fresh, feisty modern adaptation of Tolstoy’s epic tale of human nature, focusses on the plight of the eponymous heroine to explore the role of women in pursuit of love, marriage and motherhood in a patriarchal society.

At the opening dinner party scene, family life is indeed in confusion as Dolly confronts her husband Stiva about his deceitful behaviour, while he jovially expects his wife to forgive and forget.  At the station he meets his sister Anna as she arrives by train, where a chance brief encounter with Count Alexey Vronsky is a magnetic moment of instant sexual attraction.  However, Kitty, Dolly’s pretty 18 year old sister, has already caught the eye of Vronksy and is expecting a proposal of marriage.  Adding to this tangled web of relationships, the quietly philosophical Levin, a country landowner, is desperately keen to marry the sweet Kitty, but feels lost in this mire of misunderstanding.    

On the vast open stage dominated by a huge sculptured chandelier, tables, chairs and beds are swiftly rolled on and off.  The period is glamorously depicted through military uniforms, black tuxedos, fur coats and a parade of purple, blue and green silk gowns, not least at a lavish Ball.  Meeting Vronksy again, Anna is torn between duty - whether to stay with her conventional, cold-hearted husband who treats her like a trophy wife - or desire; like Nora in ‘The Dolls House’, Anna abandons her family, impulsively following her precarious, romantic heart without thinking of the consequences. 

The text is contemporary and colloquial with a liberal use of expletives; when we hear the elegant, upper class ladies, Anna and Dolly spout a vociferous volley of the F word, it's certainly shocking.  This, it would seem is Lesley Hart’s aim, to express their feminist feelings of emotional despair. But such anachronistic (and lazy) language risks destroying the dramatic mood in a comical send-up, akin to Woody Allen’s satirical parody, ‘Love and Death.’  

The recent BBC series, ‘Great Expectations’ was widely criticised for being ‘modern, muddied and muddled,’ inventing scenes and peppering profanities to Dickens’ text; all part of the current trend to makeover classics to resonate with a contemporary audience.

Similarly here, why abandon the original lyrical language, authenticity of character, social mores and manner? 

Against a strident metallic soundtrack and with energetic pace, spectacular, well-choreographed scenes speed from the racetrack to the opera house. With imaginative movement and mime, the cast pause in a filmic freeze frame to reveal subtle gestures and facial expressions. Intimate vignettes illustrate private tête-à-tête conversations – Anna trying to pacify her jealous, distraught husband, as well as, most movingly, when she cuddles and comforts her young son, Seryozha, at bedtime. Backstage behind a sliding screen, a sequence of movie scenes depict a snowy winter day and sunny wheat fields of the simple farming life.

With a hint of Brian Cox as Logan Roy, Stephen McCole also shows a vulnerable sensitivity beneath his brusque, bullish demeanor.  As Vronksy, Robert Akodoto struts about as the cool, charismatic cavalry officer, while the youthful carefree Kitty is played with wide-eyed naïvety by Tallulah Greive, delightfully partnered by Ray Sesay as the kind, caring, moralistic Levin.

Leading the ensemble, Lindsey Campbell excels at capturing Anna’s complex and shifting personality from sympathetic friend to Dolly and Levin, to her provocative, passionate infatuation with Vronsky.  But this is a dangerous liaison and in total contrast to Stiva’s frivolous fling, Anna is humiliated and publicly ostracised for her adulterous affair, portrayed by an inner torment of dark paranoia.  

To the haunting echo of train wheels and whistles, the railway station representing travel, change and life’s journey, is a recurring theatrical motif: when Vronsky meets Anna, they witness the blood-stained death of a railway worker, foreshadowing her own tragic, fateful destiny.  


Royal Lyceum Theatre, 13 May to 3 June, 2023

Tuesday – Saturday, 7:30pm, ticket prices: £17.50 – £39
Wednesdays and Saturdays, 2:30pm, ticket prices: £15 – £31

Concessions available.

Transferring to the Bristol Old Vic, 7 – 24th June, 2023