Anna Karenina is an age old tragedy that’s a must see at the Abbey

If you have escaped Christmas Day relatively unscathed or are still in a familial war zone, Tolstoy’s masterpiece Anna Karenina will help you realise your life probably isn’t quite as dramatic as the heroine at the centre of this bleak love story set in the midst of family drama.

The outrageously talented Lisa Dwan lights up the stage at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, almost as soon as she appears on a train opposite a obnoxious and self-obsessed Countess Vronskaya (Barbara Brennan).

Dwan is instantly recognisable as the beauty who is to take on the role of Karenina, one of the most famous women in 19th Century literature.

But as her blissful performance continues, it is clear though Karenina is haunted, set back by a time and place in history, Dwan does her best to portray her inner feminist strength, performing one particularly powerful monologue so many women could still relate to today.

Marina Carr’s version of Tolstoy’s classic is never boring and this three-and-a-half hour play challenges the very notions of a woman’s place in society, in family and even hints at how much further we still have to go.

Themes of depression, drug dependence, adultery, jealousy, gossip, sexism, patriarchy and of course, suicide, are all dealt with against the backdrop of a harsh wintry Russian landscape with injections of Irish humour and of course familiar local accents.

Lisa Dwan as Anna Karenina and Rory Fleck Byrne as Vronksy. Photo by Ros Kavanagh.
Lisa Dwan as Anna Karenina and Rory Fleck Byrne as Vronksy. Photo by Ros Kavanagh.

Dwan’s interpretation of this anti-heroine is remarkable.  She could so easily be disliked for leaving her child for the love of a younger man, Vronksky, played by Rory Fleck Byrne.

But the actress’ capacity to make the audience fall for her, empathise with her, helps the historic figure become more human and easier for viewers to relate to.

The play reaches an emotional climax when the once enchanting Karenina comes close to death in childbirth and raves about being torn between “two husbands.”

And we again see despair, as Karenina’s once towering character comes to a disturbing end.  Dwan’s interpretation would seem to insist this woman has been left in turmoil by a sexist societal attitude and female gossips feasting on ravaged human emotions.

This is a truly wonderful play and Dwan’s performance was outstanding.  Anna Karenina is a must this season.

Anna Karenina is showing at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin until January 28.

For tickets log on to or call the box office on 01 8787222.





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