Tuesday, February 16, 2021

ANNA KARENINA (Stage Russia/Stream Theatre)****


By Louise

Link: https://www.stream.theatre/season/30

Available until: Performances every day at 7.30 until Sunday 21 February, with matinées on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at 2.30pm.

There is a story in my family about when my mum, my granny and my great-aunt went to see a stage production of Anna Karenina. The scenery was just two chairs my mum and my granny thought it was one of the best plays they had ever seen. My great-aunt said “It was nothing without the scenery.”

My mum and my granny were really quite annoyed with her, but I think my great-aunt would have really liked this production because there was LOTS of scenery! I don’t think a performance needs scenery in order to be good, it is more important to have good actors playing good characters as they are really what the story is about. Anna Karenina is all about people and how they relate to each other so you do need good actors who are able to play the complex characters. But when the scenery is as impressive as it is in this production, it really does get your attention.

A lot of stage performances now are using video projections. I usually find it a little bit disappointing because it kind of takes you outside theatre into film and even though it looks more real than what is happening onstage, it feels a lot less real. But Anna Karenina used the video projections brilliantly. They fit into the staging so well, it is not always possible to tell what is staging and what is film. Even when the film is actually moving, you don’t get a jarring sensation of being thrown from the theatre world into the film world because it feels so much a part of what is happening onstage.

But it isn’t just the video projections. Vyacheslav Okunev’s set is absolutely beautiful. The scene changes so many times to create so many different locations and every single one is really stunning. There are big, sweeping staircases, posh pillars, it is all so lovely to look at. It is almost impossible to believe something so lovely has been created just for a play, rather than being put out in the real world in a really big and beautiful house. The scene changes are also so good. I don’t know how they managed to move all those staircases around, but they did it. Even the floor is really beautiful – it is shiny and in large squares.

Gleb Filshtinsky’s lighting plays a really important role in this production. I think a lot of the set was used more than once and I’m sure the floor was the same floor all the way through, but by lighting it in different colours, it gives the impression of being somewhere new and different. The colours also add to the atmosphere, it is a very atmospheric play.

A big part of the atmosphere is Roman Ignayev’s music. It is not like a typical musical. There aren’t any really big vocal numbers where the singers either need technical brilliance or to be really good at expressing emotion. But the music is always there, always creating emotion and drama. Musical director Konstantin Khvatynets draws so much emotion from the orchestra. The music is what I call Popssical (but Imogen says this is really silly and she is probably right) because it uses elements both of pop music and of classical music. Sometimes the singing is in a pop style and there is a heavy percussion beat. Sometimes the strings come in with a soaring effect and the singing is in a more classical style. It works very well.

Anna Karenina has an unusual feel for a musical, but I don’t think this is a bad thing. A lot of the story seems to be much more about the sweeping of the emotions rather than what is actually being said. This means the characters are kind of at a distance and I didn’t really feel I got to know them very well, but I still really liked watching them and feeling all the emotions. They are such big, powerful characters, they still made a very strong impression and actually it might be a bit scary to get too deeply into Anna Karenina’s head.

Ekaterina Guseva plays Anna. Anna is a very unusual sort of person. She behaves in ways which seem quite cold and selfish, but you can feel all the emotion burning underneath. Even though I found her a little bit scary and I didn’t love her in the way I’d usually want to love the main character, I did feel a lot of sympathy for her. Some people think Anna has borderline personality disorder. I think it is very difficult to diagnose a fictional character when you can’t ask them questions and observe them in other situations, but she is definitely very impulsive with overpowering emotions and she doesn’t always seem fully connected with reality. But I think you could say the same about a lot of fictional characters. It’s quite difficult to write a story without some sort of emotional crisis and they do often end up behaving in ways which would not be a good idea in real life.

Sergey Lee plays Anna’s boyfriend Alexey Vronsky (she is married so it is a bit of an issue for her to have a boyfriend) and he seems very nice but too much in love to think properly. Alexey Karenin is played by Alexander Marakulin and he seems quite scary and controlling so I can’t blame Anna for not being completely happy. Natalia Bystrova is a really sweet Kitty, and Denis Demkiv makes Konstantin seem like a reliable sort of man.

Anna Karenina is a really interesting story which was made into a really interesting musical. And I think it would still be good without the scenery.

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