Marina Carr has adapted Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina for the Abbey stage, and the ensemble piece runs until the end of January under the direction of Wayne Jordan, with a strong cast including Declan Conlon, Lisa Dwan and a regular of Carr’s previous plays, Derbhle Crotty.

In a recent interview with John Kelly on RTÉ’s The Works Presents, we got an insight into Marina Carr, the established Irish playwright, who has written heroine-centered dramas that fuse the Irish midlands (a place often overlooked in theatre) with well-worn stories coopted from the Greeks.

Martina Carr, pictured with The Works Presents' John Kelly

Anna Karenina is less violent than Marina Carr’s own work, but she identifies with the vitality of the characters in Tolstoy’s epic novel, which she has pared down to a three-hour stage play.

“One of the things I adore about Tolstoy is the absolute presence of these people. They are just bursting with life, bursting out of the moment. I don’t think we do that enough. We’re all hiding behind things. Thinking about living, rather than living in all our contradictions.”

We need your consent to load this YouTube contentWe use YouTube to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

Her own characters could never be accused of inaction. These women – Hester Swayne, Portia Coughlan, Ariel - scrap for their place in a world that has ostracized them. At the end of their tether, their very nature suffocated, the dominant female leads she writes are the explosive elements from which she ignites her dramas with frightening consequences.

Hell hath no fury like a women scorned with the weight of antiquity.

***

Carr has had an affinity with the Abbey from when she first started writing plays.

“The first play I wrote was Ullaloo and it was in my final year of college. It was absolutely on the back of reading Beckett.

“It was put on in the Peacock. They took me in… Which is extraordinary now when you think of all the young writers around and they’re probably on their tenth play before they get a look in.”

Susan Lynch in the Abbey's 2015 revival of Marina Carr's In The Bog Of Cats

She soon outgrew the imitations and developed as a writer.

“I couldn’t go any further with the absurdist Beckett influence, I just ran out of steam, because it wasn’t my voice. And so it was about finding what I wanted to say.

“Again it’s like feeling your way in the dark. It’s one step forward and ten back. And you’re trying to hit the seam - you hit it, then you miss it. There’s an awful lot of that.”

Soon her own characters emerged as she mined unchartered territory dramatically: the midlands of Ireland. The structure she decided to house her stories within was often Greek as she gave a freedom of expression to the caustic impulses of her heroines.

We need your consent to load this YouTube contentWe use YouTube to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

What was it about the ancient plays that made her use them as a framework?

“Architecture, I suppose. It just gives the stories weight… Hemingway talks about the iceberg and the tip of the iceberg. You don’t need to see the whole iceberg but you feel that weight when you read the Greeks. You feel the iceberg underneath them. I wanted to lean on something like that and see what that would release.”

What emerged was a series of plays and female characters that established Marina Carr as one of Ireland’s foremost contemporary playwrights.

“I feel looking back now, I didn’t know any of this then. But I look back at (her early play) The Mai and there are parts that work, and parts that are very flawed. It’s a rough play. But it released something, it released the beginning of what I think is my phrasing.

“It brought me into Portia Coughlan, By the Bog of Cats, On Rafferty’s Hill, Ariel – it was like a bridging. Not that you ever know these things at the time.”

Those from the midlands will recognise their dialect and mannerisms reflected in these the Midland plays, as they have became known.

Marina Carr is from Offaly and she found in her own bog ample turf to stoke the fires of her theatre.

***

This Abbey adaptation is not the first time that Marina Carr has focused on the greats of Russian literature in her work. As part of the 2011 Dublin Theatre Festival, she wrote 16 Possible Glimpses and it was Wayne Jordan again directing this kaleidoscopic look at the life of Anton Chekhov.

We need your consent to load this Vimeo contentWe use Vimeo to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

In this piece there featured a Tolstoy character. That lead to her researching the writer and rereading War and Peace and Anna Karenina in great detail; this renewed interest was the genesis for this adaptation.

“Tolstoy is a fascinating man apart from being a great novelist… he could not stand Shakespeare. He said once that the reason he hated Shakespeare so much was that he got there first. He took all the wheat and left the rest of us with the chaff.

“I suppose what a lot of people think they know with the Anna Karenina story is, it’s actually a great love story but, being Tolstoy, it has all the nuance, dissatisfaction and reservation around love. That argument, how to live, how to love and how to die?

“These are the huge questions that Tolstoy asks and they’re in Anna’s life and in her trajectory.”

Anna Karenina runs in The Abbey Theatre, Dublin until January 28th. Watch The Works Presents: Marina Carr here.