Anna Karenina's narrative is an ancient one and should be familiar to all. The titular heroine, married, respected, well-situated, stumbles into a deeply risqué affair with the slutty young Count Vronsky whilst away from home on a mission to salvage her brother's marriage, after his own infidelity is uncovered. Despite the strictures of social expectation and the prospect of losing her son to the patrician husband she is cuckolding, Anna steams into this doomed affair, related characters spinning off on their own trajectories from the central thread of her descent, sketching both the personal and political landscape of pre-rev Imperial Russia. Do not be intimidated by the historical reference because AK is accessible on almost any level.
This largesse is unfortunately squandered by the knicker-bunching mechanics of the direction, which manages to be both fussy and grinding at the same time in an unreconstructed triumph of vanity. It's a Stoppard joint, too, after all; everything about Shakespeare in Love that makes us want to wedge it under the devil's sideboob on a really hot day in hell is lavished upon AK, the posturing, the unsuspected mediocrity, the moustache-twirling smugness. Wright's dodgy values seep deeply into Tolstoy's drier fabric, jugging the metaphorical hare to a heinous degree in some places. Inexplicable wtf vogueing pollutes dance scenes that should have been portals to our understanding of Anna and Vronksy's fatal conjunction; the same face-palming vaudeville flourishes infect the piece from start to finish, doing their best to efface the depth Tolstoy intended.
Ironically, AK shines brightest in its gorgeously-rendered rural scenes, meant as relief, perhaps, from the often anoxic confines of the theatrical setting. Which begs the question- why confine the production at all if you're not nursing the kind of vision that could contain Anna Karenina in a single building? That's pretty elementary stuff, really. For all their luminous proficiency, these scenes just seemed like a proof-of-concept failure, and that's a big shame.
Anna K- too much cheese, not enough biscuit. Leo wouldn't be impressed.