Reviewed by Michelle Ewen
Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
A cautionary tale for the digital age, Anna X opens with the chance meeting of an art world protégé and a tech start-up entrepreneur on their first night in New York. They are both chasing celebrity, money and power but, for one of them, success will depend on fooling the other. Wrapped up in their own fakery, the question is: Which carefully spun ‘avatar’ – fuelled by social media – will unravel first?
This ambitious production brings together the powerhouse pairing of Golden Globe award winner Emma Corrin (Netflix’s The Crown) in the titular role of Anna X and the Royal Television Society’s 2019 Breakthrough star Nabhaan Rizwan (Informer, BBC), who is Ariel – founder of @GenesisApp.
Between them, Corrin and Rizwan also play a cast of colourful supporting characters. Ranging from Anna’s sleazy magazine editor boss to Ariel’s key investor and former lover, they slip into each new role with a swift accent change.
It is a tall order to carry the entire production, delivering Joseph Charlton’s (Brilliant Jerks, VAULT Festival) sparkling dialogue without a beat, but this dynamic duo is more than up to the challenge – injecting their delivery with a lightness and deftness of touch that is a joy to behold.
On paper, both main characters should be contemptible. One is a fake oil heiress who is hellbent on fooling the New York art world. The other has created ‘Illuminati Tinder’ – an exclusive matching service where only the elite class get to date and have sex. Yet somehow, Corrin and Rizwan manage to make these pair of rogues likeable. Statuesque and commanding, Corrin imbues her Anna X with a beguiling sense of adventure, whereas Rizwan’s Ariel is a naïve dreamer who is only too willing to follow her lead.
The laughs and comedic undertones are genuine, plus Charlton’s pointed commentary on everything from Instagram ‘likes’ to modern art serves to remind us that in today’s world, values and morality are increasingly subjective. (As Anna herself says: “If you lie in America and it gets you what you want, you’re an entrepreneur, not a criminal.”)
Whilst this play has some serious storytelling ‘chops’ – having been inspired in part by the exploits of real-life New York socialite Anna Sorokin – it is the set and video by Mikaela Liakata and Tal Yarden, and Jessica Hung Han Yun’s kinetic lighting that earns this reviewer’s plaudits.
An ever-changing video screen serves as a shape-shifting backdrop – morphing from New York’s skyline to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, with pulsating nightclubs and dingy smoking stoops in between. The technology is used at its inventive best to depict rapid-fire WhatsApp messages or subtitled dialogue yelled over throbbing music and slicing strobe lights.
Simple cubes create levels on the otherwise sparse stage, which Corrin and Rizwan reimagine as balconies, hotel beds and office desks – all under Daniel Raggett’s playful direction.
It all adds up to an artful deception and, as Anna X says: “The world wants to be deceived… Give them what they want.”
Coming to the North by way of Sonia Friedman Productions’ RE:EMERGE season at the West End, Anna X is playing at The Lowry until Saturday, 14 August. Further information can be found here.