Simulated sex and the c-word is a novel if explicit way of presenting the Tolstoy classic Anna Karenina on stage.
Full of extra-marital affairs mostly among rich and spoilt men it also has real romance amid scandalous bodice-ripping bedroom scenes.
Lesley Hart’s easy to follow adaptation of the classic novel is stupendously accessible to a modern audience.
With pacing and spacing (and freeze) – ice-skating, ballroom dancing and a horse race - and spoken in regional accents this cast of seven play all the characters in this par excellence two-hour production.
Helped by a simple but effective set, over which hangs the sword of Damocles (I think), a long dining table laden with goodies takes centre stage against a strangely menacing backdrop of snow, fields and a train station.
The script traumatises with harrowing birth scenes (lots of screaming and blood) then throws in a fun line which has the audience laughing out loud (LOL). The crying baby in the pram doesn’t miss a cue.
Add the quick costumes changes (bit too quick at the end for the little boy) it is one of the best productions I have seen at the Bristol Old Vic along with Christmas Carol and the Jane Austen Pride And Prejudice (sort of).
But from the start you knew this was going to be an innovative drama, bringing this literary romp to the chattering classes among the cast and mechanical sex to the martial bed until a dashing young soldier ups the ante (so to speak).
Almost a Mills & Boon romance with passion and panache it throws in despair and mental health issues all set in an 19th status-ridden Russia.
It you don’t know the plot you are going to love it and if you do know the plot you are going to love it too.
Russian author Leo Tolstoy first published his book in 1878 and it is widely considered to be one of the greatest works of literature ever written.
The novel deals with themes of betrayal, faith, family, marriage, Imperial Russian society, desire, and rural versus urban life and somehow this play does that too.
Anna is beautifully portrayed by Lindsey Campbell, Stephen McCole as her ambitious careerist husband Karenin isn’t quite as mean and unlovable as the late Eric Porter in the 1977 television drama.
Scandalous goings-on in St Petersburg
But the third man in this love triangle Robert Akodoto as Alexis Vronsky is a giant in the role quite literally.
Kitty (Tallulah Greive) is amazing in jodhpurs and riding whip playing race horse Frou Frou and Levin (Ray Sesay) is her fallback partner covering four roles!
Playing leeching husband Stiva (Angus Miller) even makes a pass at a female stagehand which made everyone smile.
The demanding part of Seryozha is shared between child actors Louis Fox, Alessandro Malavolti and Henry Orchard who have to wear a bear suit, wet-themselves (not literally) and reject their mother, this was played on Thursday press night, June 8, with great aplomb.
I loved where the couples argued simultaneously across each other in a ‘choreographed collision of views about love, fidelity and commitment, the themes of the novel finding theatrical form’, according to the Guardian critic Mark Fisher.
This production plays until Saturday, June 24, at various times.
For tickets go to https://bristololdvic.org.uk/whats-on/anna-karenina.
PHOTOS: All by Robbie McFadzean