Anna Karenina

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

Neil Cooper

Four stars

If a life without passionate love is a life unlived, as is debated in Lesley Hart’s new take on Leo Tolstoy’s nineteenth century classic, where does that leave the remnants of the relationship between dashing Count Vronsky and the play’s eponymous heroine by its end?

Sparks fly when Anna first meets Vronsky on a crowded railway platform in Moscow. Anna is on a mercy mission to sort out her brother’s collapsing marriage. Vronsky is there to meet his mother. The nature of these visitations speak volumes about what follows, as the pair embark on a tempestuous and ultimately destructive affair. For teenage Kitty and her would-be suitor, Levin, meanwhile, their seemingly more straightforward amour develops problems of its own.

Hart and director Polina Kalinina lead us on a not so merry dance through the well-choreographed world Anna and Vronsky are attempting to take flight from in this co-production between the Lyceum and Bristol Old Vic. Lindsey Campbell and Robert Akodoto express the couple’s doomed passion in thoroughly modern fashion, with Tallulah Greive and Ray Sesay providing a neat counterpoint as Kitty and Levin.

As Hart peppers her characters’ altogether grown-up exchanges with sweary words throughout, her potty-mouthed approach seems to suggest some kind of liberation is possible, even if it is only a woman’s right to use as many rude words as men.

The formal order of the dinner table, the ballroom, the racetrack, and even the bedroom is meticulously arranged by movement director Vicki Manderson, while Anna and Vronsky lose themselves in more freeform possibilities.

Played out on designer Emma Bailey’s modernist interior, the future is pointed up even more by the metallic creaks and Sensurround clatter of Xana’s industrial soundtrack. The only thing stuck in the past are the attitudes of the men, unable to change a nappy, let alone take responsibility for their actions.

At the centre of the room, a sculpture hangs from the ceiling, metal entwined around metal in a seemingly unbreakable grip. By the end, however, it’s not the only thing that’s torn apart in a high-octane tug of love that leaves all passion spent.