There’s something incredibly frustrating about modern interpretations of classic works. Perhaps it’s only the case when they are not executed well. Suzie Miller’s feminist interpretation of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina (1878) is a bland homage to the classic piece of literature that has spawned ballets, films, and a cavalcade of remakes.
The striking set designed by Anna Cordingley brought the audience into the world with immediacy. The profanities scrawled across the back wall of the stage in light up neon was a glorious touch to the stark hotel room setting where the protagonist, journalist Anna Kay (Caroline Craig) is holed up with her lover Lexie (Callan Colley). Taking inspiration from Tolstoy, Anna K references the love affair between wife and handsome soldier, betrayal, family and desire and even makes note of the train motifs in the original novel. Yet instead of representing transportation, the setting of the trains consistently passing by and rattling the hotel walls creates a claustrophobic environment for Anna as she remains trapped in the room.
Obviously the 90-minute play doesn’t have the capacity to investigate the complexity of the 800 page novel, but it plays more like a soap opera than a piece of literature. The feminist Anna Kay, who having been found out of her affair with Lexie (a former SAS soldier Anna interviewed in a bombshell investigation involving the armed forces and its culture of bullying) almost immediately unravels. This is an unexpected response for the supposedly hard-hitting journalist on prime time TV. Lurching from emotion to emotion, Anna swaps between falling into a Twitter hole as she is attacked online before getting extremely intoxicated, dancing to her favourite song and ultimately throwing up in the bath. It’s a predictable story but lacks conviction.
The plot slows considerably from the time Lexie leaves in search of job prospects and Anna begins her descent into self-pitying madness. With a few cameos by Louisa Mignone who plays Anna’s publicist, nanny and former mentee her character is essentially the same person in slightly different costumes and does nothing to drive the story along. Mignone gets a few good one-liners, but the humour feels forced and doesn’t quite land.
Overall, Anna K lacks believability, what worked in the oppression of Anna Karenina simply doesn’t translate to a 2022 timeline.
Yes misogyny, abuse and trolling are prevalent, particularly to women, people of colour or members of LGBTQI+ community in the public eye, but this is not the subject being investigated. Rather the audience watches a two-dimensional character, who evokes little sympathy and has no redeeming qualities become increasingly pathetic, a stark contrast from the powerful woman she pertains to be.
Unfortunately, Anna K was a disappointing production from a renowned playwright that lacked original thought or narrative realism and left me feeling rather underwhelmed.
Malthouse Theatre presents
by Suzie Miller | inspired by Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina
Director Carissa Licciardello
Venue: Merlyn Theatre | The Malthouse, 113 Sturt Street Southbank VIC
Dates: 12 August – 4 September 2022