Emma Corrin as Anna. Photo: Helen Murray
Charlton takes the bones of Sorokin’s mischief but laces the tale with fictional elements, most notably the addition of Anna’s boyfriend Ariel, the founder of an exclusive dating app, portrayed convincingly by breakthrough artist Nabhaan Rizwan. It’s a story bubbling with potential – one that presumably packed a punch in the fringe environment of London’s VAULT Festival, where it premiered in 2019. But despite its revival in the powerful hands of director Ian Rickson and producer Sonia Friedman, the titans behind the Harold Pinter Theatre’s three-part Re:Emerge season of which Anna X is the final instalment, the show feels flat in its new West End environment; the action simmers rather than boils and doesn’t deliver the tension such a remarkable story of deception could conjure.
Through a sedulous script littered with contemporary references covering everything from drugs and dating apps to Damien Hirst, Charlton paints a New York City where ambitious and hungry minds from all over the world come to elevate themselves.
Nabhaan Rizwan as Ariel. Photo: Helen Murray
Charlton’s Anna is a 23-year-old Russian (though really Ukrainian) art collector, who meets 32-year-old tech entrepreneur Ariel at a hip, drug-fuelled party. Director Daniel Raggett has the pair relay their backstories directly to the audience, engaging us in a whistle-stop journey through their hopes, ambitions and the formative moments leading up to their fateful meeting. We soon glean that Ariel is successful, wealthy and in search of excitement, while Anna is hunting for someone to fund her fraudulent lifestyle.
Mikaela Liakata and Tal Yarden’s set design is a triumph and the true shining light of the production. Projected on a grid-like screen, aerial shots of the New York City skyline bleed into the gliding elevators of Manhattan skyscrapers or phone screens displaying text messages between the pair – all seamlessly. Once Anna’s mask has fallen and her true identity revealed, the stage is stripped bare for the final scene, rigging and props exposed to subtly powerful effect.
Emma Corrin as Anna, Nabhaan Rizwan as Ariel, Photo: Helen Murray
Mike Winship’s electro-led score captures the super-charged drive of the city that never sleeps, but while its heavy beats work for the initial clubbing scene, the persistent thuds drain attention from the narrative, creating an energy neither Corrin nor Rizwan are able to compete with.
Corrin infuses Anna with Villanelle-esque charm, her bursts of deadpan, dark humour bolstering her intrigue and turning Rizwan’s Ariel to putty in her hands. Rizwan, in turn, fits the role of West-Coast-nice-guy-turned-Silicon-Valley-success-story like a glove.
Anna X circles a gripping premise that has heaps of potential to stun on stage, but more could be done to infuse the plot with the nail-biting tension needed to make this worthy tale enthral and thrill a West End audience.
|What||Anna X, Harold Pinter Theatre review|
|Where||Harold Pinter Theatre, Panton Street, London, SW1Y 4DN | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Covent Garden (underground)|
09 Jul 21 – 04 Aug 21, Performance times TBD
|Website||Click here for more information and to book|