by Joseph Charlton
Directed by Daniel Raggett as part of the Re:Emerge season
Harold Pinter Theatre – until 4 August
Here it is then: the last offering in this truly excellent season of new writing, and I for one will be extremely sorry to see it end. Far and away the worst thing about producer Sonia Friedman’s inspired initiative to give new/new-ish writing an auspicious West End start is how short the runs are…. just three weeks for each production. I guess the plays were unknown quantities so maybe the thinking was that if one or all of them had been unmitigated disasters then at least the casts wouldn’t be staring out at empty houses for too dispiritingly long a period of time. Of course, that did not happen though – I mean, Sonia does have form: Leopoldstadt, Harry Potter & The Cursed Child, Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour – and we’ve been treated to a diverse trio of sparkling, exciting new pieces any of which would have looked like an oasis of theatrical achievement even in an artistic landscape considerably less barren than the one we’re currently facing post-pandemic.
Inspired by the real life case of ‘fake heiress’ con-woman Anna Sorokin who was convicted of grand larceny after running financial and social amok in mid 2010s Manhattan, Joseph Charlton’s Anna X is an ultra-modern morality tale. It’s a breathless but steely meditation on the fragility of the ‘virtual world’ and the ease with which it facilitates dishonesty and disengagement. The two actors – The Crown’s Emma Corrin and Nabhaan Rizwan, both excellent – portray not just icy Anna and her eager-to-please but cocky “new millionaire” quarry Ariel, his wealth deriving from the creation of a high end, eye-watering lot elitist dating app, but also everybody else who enters their orbit.
Anna passes herself off as an art curator, so it feels appropriate that Daniel Raggett’s flashy, punch staging (Mikaela Liakata and Tal Yarden’s set and projection designs are genuinely dazzling) feels as much like an art Installation as it does a conventional theatrical production. Like the acting performances, it is effortlessly cool and technically flawless, and, in all honesty, probably more remarkable than Charlton’s gripping but occasionally pedestrian script, though it takes a certain amount of chutzpah to create a play where both of the protagonists are essentially so unlikeable.
Few will care, I suspect, preferring to luxuriate in the shimmering, transformative visuals, the pumping soundtrack (sound design by Mike Winship), and the bursts of biting wit. It may be my least favourite of the Re:Emerge Season but it’s still a scintillating way to spend eighty minutes, skilfully evoking the excitement yet increasing dehumanising of global cities as electronic online living threatens to supersede actual lived existence. I’m keeping everything crossed that in the not-too-distant future, this, Walden and J’Ouvert each get extended return engagements. They all deserve it.