Playing perfectly off the musty, arched wasteland-playground space of The VAULT Festival’s The Pit, ANNA X immediately transports its audience into the world of ambition and delusion that Anna (Rosie Sheehy) and Ariel (Joshua James) occupy in contemporary New York City’s art/investment/tech scene. As perceptive of our era as Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities was of the eighties, Joseph Charlton’s tale is taut, lyrical and quickly hits our souls as pure human truth.
Deftly rendered by director Daniel Raggett, the play opens with Anna and Ariel shouting over blaring dance music at an ‘immersive experience’ party on Governor’s Island. Like the protagonists who are struggling to make out what each other is saying, the audience strains to fathom the dialogue but is also offered it as an instant messaging exchange projected on the wall behind the actors. Slightly delayed and disorientating, we are instantly rapt by the dissonance between what we see and hear – and want to believe. We, too, hang on every word. Committed and likely complicit, the sheer wit of their words drives us to want to occupy this world with them for just a moment, even though we know it will come to no good.
Charlton offers astute characterisations and tight, funny dialogue about topics that have been discussed before but satisfy with both emotional engagement and smart analysis. Delivering all of this true story’s inherent dramatic promise, Charlton’s writing has the lightest and most subtle seasoning of political context to be believable but avoids overpowering. ANNA X owes more to Faust than it does to Frost/Nixon.
Thrillingly well-observed, ANNA X feels as exciting in its understanding of the current Instagram Age as Patrick Marber’s 1997 smash, Closer, was for the chatroom era just before the dawn of the 21st century. This play does not lecture. Gently evoking pathos, we are entertained throughout.
A two-hander with supporting roles also enacted by Rosie Sheehy and Joshua James, these two cluster-f***ed lovers are real and multi-dimensional. A lesser cast might veer into caricature, but Sheehy is especially commanding and authentic as unrepentant Anna who simply wants her ‘coal’ life to be as diamond-brilliant as the American dream exhorts its followers.
Sheehy is dressed-down in a tracksuit and hoody, utterly convincing as she double-bluffs and dares us to separate her charisma from everyone’s wishful thinking. Both actors are masterful in delivering performances that are simultaneously droll and sympathetic. Bookmark their names and expect more good things to come from them.
The production’s staging relies heavily on video projections, both as scenery and dreamscape. Whilst the story has plenty of barbs for the pomposity and consumerist guile of art, Mikaela Liakata’s video designs, together with Lizzy Gunby’s lighting and Mike Winship’s sound, are as affecting and hypnotic as art pieces themselves.
Joseph Charlton has created a play about lies, longing and love that also fearlessly explores how we confine ourselves with self-consciousness. Whilst the characters speak of FOMO and its perils, Charlton’s new play is a riveting experience — do try not to miss out!
Review by Mary Beer
Anna. 26. Curator. Retired intern. Previously @RAW magazine. I ♥ art, fashion, NYC. Coming soon @AnnaXStudios – a hub for artists, creatives, members.
Ariel. 34. CEO of @Genesis. A new social and dating network by invitation only. #DateBetter. Venture capital experience from SF-NY-LDN. I make every line count #stillcoding #CEOswhocode #GenesisApp
Immersed in an addictive world of private views, front-row fashion shows, and endless parties, Anna and Ariel find themselves struggling for ways to keep up with New York’s dazzling social elite.
How far will they go to keep their new identities? And at what price?
‘Anna X’ is the story of a woman’s drive to become somebody from nobody. A new play by award-winning writer Joseph Charlton (‘Brilliant Jerks’) about the nature of narcissism, based on real events.
Anna – Rosie Sheehy
Ariel – Joshua James
Director – Daniel Raggett
Writer – Joseph Charlton
Producer – Rebecca Gwyther
Booking to 17th March 2019