Review – Anna Karenina

A bit confused – at The Royal Exchange


three stars


I can’t confess to having waded through Tolstoy’s 900+ page monster.


But I have read Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. It took me a year, which I think shows that I’m not one to give up on something lightly.

The same Dostoyevsky declared Anna Karenina to be “flawless as a work of art” and even now it’s often described as the greatest novel ever written.

I had huge hopes for this adaptation by Jo Clifford of Anna Karenina, but unfortunately for me and several others with me on press night, it just didn’t quite manage to pull it off.

I was hoping to be as spell bound as I was by The Royal Exchange’s production of Orlando last year which was magical from it’s acting (Suranne Jones), costumes and staging to it’s music and dance. But I was left feeling a little bit sad and confused at such a missed opportunity.



Anna Karenina at The Royal Exchange



Even if you haven’t leafed through Tolstoy’s tome, most will know that it’s the story of Anna (Ony Uhiara), young wife, aristocrat and socialite who embarks on a passionate and scandalous affair with Count Vronsky (Robert Gilbert) which sees Anna shunned by Russian society. Consumed by paranoia she sees no alternative but to fling herself under a train.


Anna Karenina at Royal Exchange



Tolstoy’s face has been described as the face of every Russian at a time when there was great social unrest and revolution in the air. I was hoping for a production with a deep, dark heart which was as perfect and complex as a blood red rose, with beautiful sumptuous and imaginative costumes at juxtaposition with the earth of mother Russia.

Sadly I just didn’t feel it. I didn’t feel the heat between the two main characters, whose contemporary dance routine left me feeling a bit uncomfortable. And while habitual worrier Levin (John Cummins), philandering Oblonsky (Ryan Early) and rigid government official Karenin (Jonathan Keeble) all provided comedic light relief which was well received, it left me confused as to just what this play was.

Confusion compounded by the fact that the cast play multiple characters, and that I suspect the performance is laced with oodles of symbolism that went over my head.


Anna Karenina at Royal Exchange


Having said that I did enjoy Gillian Saker as Levin’s wife Katy, whose story is the reverse of Anna Karenina’s, from heartbroken girl destroyed by Count Vronsky to dutiful and respectable wife living in the country. And that of young Anna – who whilst only on stage for only a moment, shone brightly.

It’s a tough call to distill such a massive work into a two hour play. I did really want to love it, but it just wasn’t for me.

Anna Karenina runs at The Royal Exchange from 19th March – 2nd May 2015.

For more information and to book tickets click here.


Alison x  (your 4Manchester Women Editor)


Photographs: Jonathan Keenan for The Royal Exchange









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