Tolstoy is one of those authors that everyone has heard of. Many have tried to read his works. And a few have succeeded. I’ll admit that even I struggled with War and Peace but Anna Karenina is a wonderful story. She is a woman scorned, adored and betrayed. Her fragility is as dangerous as her strength and through this, she self-destructs.
Arrows & Traps are well-known for their reimagined Shakespeare, so attempting Tolstoy was a brave deviation. Yet in this adaptation by Helen Edmundson, they have made Anna’s story accessible to all without losing the complexity of the characters.
The story is told by Anna (Ellie Jacob) and Levin (David Paisley), two characters who are connected through family, but who don’t officially meet until Act II. Their stories are entwined, yet somehow opposite in layout. She has a family, but risks everything to seize control and experience love, whereas Levin struggles to understand his purpose in life and resents others who are happy until he has his own family.
There is a surprising amount of comedy, particularly from the supporting cast. Spencer Lee Osborne causes waves of giggles in his role as the priest, as does Hannah Wilder when peeling a potato. Aside from the two protagonists, the whole cast plays multiple roles from frolicking peasants to snooty aristocrats and each is believable.
Ellie Jacob is a controlled actress, yet she manages to show Anna as both feisty and pitiable. Even though she is not likeable, our sympathies stay with her throughout, wavering only occasionally. Despite her choices and actions, we are drawn to her.
Will Mytum is surprisingly likeable as Vronsky, perhaps because of his genuine concern for Anna’s wellbeing and the way he is treated by the other characters.
While there is no weak member of the cast, what really brings this piece to life is its movement – Will Pinchin’s physical interpretation is excellent and keeps the piece flowing, modernising the story without losing its structure.
What lets this piece down is its length, understandable as Tolstoy was never one to mix his words, and despite the gripping performance people do start to shift in their seats towards the end.
However, Arrows & Traps have created a fantastic show and Anna Karenina is unique in its interpretation and well worth seeing.
Reviewed by Michaela Clement-Hayes
Photo: Davor Torvarlaza
Anna Karenina plays at the Brockley Jack until 2 April 2016