“All ideas are good,” according to the great theatre teacher Jacques Lecoq. “The question is: will they work on stage?” This production is bursting with ideas, but they haven’t reached concrete expression in performance.
Director Anthony Lau, designer Georgia Lowe and lighting designer Jack Knowles have taken Helen Edmundson’s celebrated 1992 ensemble-based adaptation of Tolstoy’s 1878 realist novel about families (happy and unhappy) and given it an early-20th-century Soviet theatre makeover. The stage is configured as a circus ring abutting a wall of doors (think Meyerhold; think Eisenstein before he moved on to film). Instead of a set, there are sculptural lighting effects (think Gordon Craig and/or Appia). This style is demanding. It sets the actors in sharp relief and demands incisive and imaginative direction.
The eight actors all perform creditably, but the direction is piecemeal. Too many scenes come across as if they are stuck in the early stages of rehearsal, not yet worked through. Edmundson’s structuring of the drama as a dialogue between Anna and the landowning, would-be family man Levin is poorly handled, made to feel slow and clumsy. Celebrations and dances are particularly raggedy (a movement director is credited, but it’s hard to believe they were employed).
Adelle Leoncé’s Anna, in figure-hugging black satin dress, is the attention-holding emotional focus of the piece, achieving an impressive climax of despair and desolation in the second half. Nick Fletcher brings a simmering passion to the role of Anna’s wronged husband, Karenin, which is not counterbalanced by Chris Jenks’s Count Vronsky, more bashful schoolboy than dangerously dashing officer. As the “good girl” counterpoint to Anna’s “fallen woman”, Tara Tijani’s Kitty grows touchingly through girlishness to womanhood in her relation with Levin.
In what is becoming a pattern at the Crucible, this is a studio-suited piece given a main-house razzmatazz that highlights its weaknesses, not its strengths.