“I think, therefore I am.” With that pithy statement, the philosopher Descartes drastically reduced the scope of what human beings can count on as certainty. One wonders whether – nearly four centuries on – the contemporary equivalent of that statement would be: “My life story is being developed as a series by Netflix, therefore my life must be justified – regardless of my dodgy CV.”
This might well seem to be the predicament of Anna Sorokin – or Anna “Delvey” (to use her assumed name) – the “fake heiress” who defrauded her way to the pinnacle of the globalised online world, where to “curate” gives the body more of a buzz than to “create”. This uber-charlatan – who ended up with convictions for grand larceny (she was from a poor suburb south of Moscow; her father worked as a truck driver) – forms the basis of Anna X, the highly intriguing and talented new play by Joseph Charlton.
Daniel Raggett’s enlivening instalment is the third in Sonia Friedman’s bracing Re:Emerge season at the Harold Pinter. Mikaela Liakata and Tal Yarden are the set and video designers; working on a gridlined set that can become move-around white boxes, they make the proceedings swarm and sway with the kind of imagery that turns these folk on.
Emma Corrin (familiar as Diana in The Crown) and Nabhaan Rizwan (TV’s Informer and Industry) play all the parts, including the thrusting jerks who have compiled 500-page coffee-table books detailing their sexual history. Rizwan mainly portrays Ariel, a start-up whizz kid who has designed a dating app (by invite only) that incorporates his perception that fashionistas hate the way the internet has democratised culture. They are still with Andy Warhol and the politics of Studio 54, where it was a case of “We’re a dictatorship at the door, a democracy on the dance floor.”
Anna, meanwhile, has started her single-minded ascent through a moneyed milieu, where the rich seem to be positively flattered by pretenders (until the cheques start to bounce). The pair meet by chance at a sweaty “immersive party experience” on Governors Island (great aerial shots of the Statue of Liberty from the rear).
Corrin and Rizwan have very good spontaneous chemistry. All to the good, because the clever and compelling twist in Charlton’s conception of the Anna enigma is that he presents it as almost-love-story. The ice princess thaws out enough to laugh at his sightly starstruck gullibility. She enjoys teasing him with transparently fake stories, such as how Soviet girls would insert vodka-soaked tampons into their vaginas to absorb the alcohol.
At one point, the pair attend a private view of an exhibition of sub-Rothko all-black canvases. Ariel mistakenly refers to the artistic influence as “Rothcow”, and is impressed that Anna has read up on Rothko on Whatsapp in the taxi on the way. “You know, that’s almost funny,” she tells him.
Of course Ariel (spoiler alert) becomes the agent of her downfall. But her fall from grace ruins him, too, and his fascination with her persists. Through him, we see a side of her that would like to allow glimpses of her imposture.
I hope that Joseph Charlton continues to write for the theatre. He has a real feel for what is enigmatic and imponderable in the static-fizzy conundrum of contemporary living, and uses the capabilities of the medium as a way of not editing out the possibilities. At times, watching Anna X, I got a sense that he might have a work within him as profound and tantalisingly irreducible as Michael Frayn’s Copenhagen.
Playing till 4 August at the Harold Pinter Theatre
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies