It can't be easy adapting Tolstoy's epic Russian novel for the stage. There are a lot of characters and many themes being explored including love, society, politics and duty (and it's over 800 pages long!) This adaptation by Jo Clifford, proves to be a very accessible production by focussing on the human nature of the events without getting too bogged down in the political.
Whilst not a completely modern day setting, the characters and settings have been portrayed in a very contemporary way. Actors often play more than one character, this can be confusing, but the approach used of characters conversationally introducing themselves as they enter helps you keep track. The pace is extremely rapid, the story is moved along in a serious of snapshots, even at times with scenes being played in parallel, generally this worked well, but I did feel that in particular Anna's emotional journey felt a little rushed.
Ony Uhiara, in the lead role of Anna, gives a striking performance, although I did find that the approach taken to the character, all nervous energy and immediacy, worked better for me in the latter scenes as Anna's mind struggles with the consequences of her actions. Exchange regular Jonathan Keeble, as Anna's by the book husband Karenin, was nicely done, as his confusion over the impact on his ordered life turns to anger at Anna's betrayal.
Welcome comic relief comes from Ryan Early's Oblonsky, portrayed here as an incorrigible flirt, somewhat oblivious to the deep hurt his actions inflict on his long suffering wife Dolly ( Claire Brown) The act two opening scene as Oblonsky and Levin ( John Cummins) fail to make it on time for the latter's marriage to Katy (Gillian Sarker), was hilarious, and provided a nice contrast to the darkness that was to follow.
A very simple stark set has been created for this production, with a patch of soil at the centre of the stage between rails gradually widening until by the start of the second act it completely bisects the stage. Although striking, I'm afraid some of the symbolism was lost on me, possibly if I knew the source text better it would have been clearer. At the start of act two as Katy knelt in a beautiful white wedding dress in the soil I did find myself becoming very distracted by the thought of the poor costume department having to maintain it between performances!
Whilst I don't think this is one of my favourite Exchange productions, a talented cast, striking design and very accessible adaptation did bring this epic take to the stage effectively and memorably.