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Anna Karenina review at Abbey Theatre, Dublin – ‘tremendously ambitious’

Lisa Dwan in Anna Karenina at Abbey Theatre, Dublin. Photo: Ros Kavanagh

With 26 scenes and 40-plus characters, Marina Carr’s tremendously ambitious adaptation of Tolstoy’s novel Anna Karenina feels rather crowded. It’s probably best thought of as two plays in one.

In 18th century Russia, Anna (Lisa Dwan), an unhappily married aristocrat is drawn to the dashing Count Vronksy, while the philosophical farmer Levin (Paul Mallon) yearns for a wealthy young woman. Everyone else comes and goes, giving us a panoramic view of various marriages and families.

When the characters come together at a ballroom dance, waltzing to David Coonan’s classical and troubled score, their steps become treacherous. Director Wayne Jordan hints at the fact that there is nothing innocent about falling in love: it’s always at the expense of someone else.

Dwan’s Anna is powerfully resolute yet susceptible to temptation. The supporting cast also give strong performances. Barbara Brennan’s Countess conveys a lifetime of cynicism in one simple snarl, while Ruth McGill shows flashes of desperation as the perpetually pregnant Dolly. Most stirring though is Declan Conlon as Anna’s husband Karenin, whose face, at one point, stiffens into a quiet picture of hatred.

Sarah Bacon’s design, in marked contrast to the density of the text, is free from elaborate costumes and furnishings, allowing for flexible shifts between scenes – with the sly use of a pulley as a train track. If Carr insists on exploring all the angles of Tolstoy’s novel, it’s because she knows every one is crucial.

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A sophisticated production of a tremendously ambitious adaptation of Tolstoy