“I think…I think there are as many different kinds of love as there are different hearts.”
― Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
Jo Clifford’s adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s classic Anna Karenina (AK) from book to stage is currently showing at The Royal Exchange Theatre. TNT slinked into the main theatre to check out how the seemingly impossible task fared.
The ‘how’ of staging such a dense and magnificent novel as Anna Karenina is a daunting thought, which is no wonder why Clifford says “When I began writing this play, I remember feeling very scared…wondering what on earth to do?”.
“The prayer was the first thing that came into my mind, and that’s why the play begins that way”, she adds. How apt: Clifford beginning with the prayer is almost symbolic of what she needed to do to tackle the vast job of “creating a portrait of the time” in the novel, as well as the time “Tolstoy was living in” when writing Anna Karenina.
There are many interlinking characters in the play that you need a spider diagram to show how their interactions connect them all. Clifford’s clever staging did just that as juxtaposed scenes and characters froze and resumed in creative, engaging fashion.
The main set – a couple of tables on huge train wheels periodically carted in and out of the auditorium – is a winner; a simple yet innovative design, as it effortlessly shows the powerful symbolism of trains in the Anna/Vronsky storyline. The tables on train wheels are emblematic of their destructive element throughout the novel.
The West Yorkshire Playhouse and Royal Exchange Theatre production sees director Ellen McDougall bring Tolstoy’s hefty classic into a 2-hour accessible play. The result is a clear eighteenth century tale about the immoral and unsustainable gap between the rich and the poor in the world and how it has fuels social change.
Tolstoy’s story is set in eighteenth century Russia, which lends obvious assumptions to the characters being white. In this play, Anna (played by Oni Uhiara) is black, which has prompted multiple online comments about why the director chose to ignore her race. However if Angelina Jolie can be cast as Cleopatra (the last active pharaoh of Egypt) in her upcoming film, why can’t Uhiara unashamedly take on Anna’s role?
TNT Entertainment Yasin Chinembiri