Performed in Covent Garden, London, on Sat 24th November 2018
deals with the Karenin household and a number of others in
The themes of the value of the family unit versus headlong pursuit of individual fulfilment, and also exploration of the limits of personal freedom are touched on, though I did not feel that the balance of interest in our troika of couples was quite achieved. Stiva and Dolly rather disappear from view, Kitty is a little under-developed, and if the altruistic Levin is to serve as an antithetical counterweight to the inward-looking Anna and Vronsky, he needs a much more vigorous acting performance than he received here.
Maria Shepard's songs, performed by a very good band of ten under Alexandra Middlemarch's lively conducting, are a delight from start to finish. They are tuneful, storyline-appropriate and with fully worked-out harmonies. The start featured the low-key song What a Mess from the womanizing Stiva (a full-of-beans Baden Burns). This number and others were hampered by sound problems that recurred later, albeit less noticeably. The first full cast number was the catchy Station Song. Subsequent musical highlights were The Unknown, partly sung to a pizzicato violin and flute duet in harmony by Anna and Princess Kitty (Madeleine Piggott, good in both acting and singing) fluttering dainty fans, the scene beautifully lit in pink-and-white by Edward Saunders.
The Ball scene was choreographed by Ellie Cooper and Madeleine Piggott, lit in shimmering blue and pink, and directed by Jasmine White with excellent use of the acting space and adjacent pulpit. Above the altar hung a roundel Holy Family, forming a highly ironic backdrop to Tolstoy's tale. I enjoyed the coming together of Kitty and Levin in the love song Words Are Not Enough (piano from of the excellent Samantha Poh, all evening fluent and tactful), and later a fan dance, That is what is Expected from a Woman, with charming harmonies and nicely choreographed by Jasmine White.
Katya Shepard's costumes were a delight: She had Princess Kitty in glamorous sky blue, Vronsky in high-collared red coat, then later in black-and-gold as he flirted with Anna in crimson (the scarlet woman?).
As Karenin, Benedict Turvill was just superb. He soon began to lay down the rules of decorum and then, at the horse race, his impassioned shock is palpable as his worst fears are realised. The subtlety of his acting was such that the play's fulcrum of interest was vested in him and Anna rather than on the Anna/Vronsky tryst. The cold fury bursting from him when Vronsky (Joseph Winter, making a sturdy lover, easily imagined as the object of Anna's passion) appeared at the Karenin house was startling. I especially noted Eric Tong's deftness in multi-parts in Act 1, including as an eccentric doctor, and then Priya Radhakrishnan as Countess Lydia was a larger-than-life presence, grabbing her The Opera aria opportunity with tremendous relish. As for Anna herself, I thought Imogen Honey Strachan convinced a little more in her illness and angst than in her earlier passion for Vronsky, and her projection of music and lyrics was a bit variable in quality, though she was not helped by the erratic sound system.
This was a super-ambitious project by Maria Shepard and her associates, carried off with great aplomb. For her, with this under her belt, it's onwards and upwards!