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BWW Review: ANNA X, Harold Pinter Theatre

Emma Corrin and Nabhaan Rizwan dazzle in Joseph Charlton’s stylish play about grand illusions.

BWW Review: ANNA X, Harold Pinter Theatre

BWW Review: ANNA X, Harold Pinter Theatre What sells better than sex? In Anna X, the answer is clear: exclusivity. Inspired by the true story of the socialite scammer Anna Sorokin, Joseph Charlton's play marks the conclusion of Sonia Friedman's Re:Emerge season at the Harold Pinter Theatre with a boy-meets-girl tale on steroids. In Daniel Raggett's hip, snappy staging, Emma Corrin and Nabhaan Rizwan - breakout stars of the TV hits The Crown and Industry, respectively - weave a contemporary romance of false façades and murky motives.

"The world wants to be deceived," declares Corrin's titular Anna, "Give them what they want." A self-appointed art curator in her mid-twenties, she has mastered the art of serving everyone a heady cocktail of effortless lies and evasive claims about her fake identity as a Russian-French heiress. Charlton's strikingly assured play opens in a New York club where Anna is dripping her poison into the ear of Rizwan's Ariel, the founder of an exclusive dating app.

As Ariel finds himself captivated by Anna's icy charm, the two embark on a wobbly relationship where mutual transparency soon proves to be out of the question. For beneath the sheen of Anna's glamorous life and dazzling Instagram account lurks a dark, larcenous project.

Anna X charts this pair's journey by punctuating their interactions over time with scenes of first-person narration by each character. This eclectic, engaging structure makes us privy to many of Anna's and Ariel's thoughts and feelings, which enriches their unfolding story. Raggett's energetic direction treats the transitions between these different registers with great care, endowing the play with the elasticity it demands.

Indispensable to his compelling staging is Mikaela Liakata and Tal Yarden's heavy-lifting set and video design: each scene is accompanied by a cascade of distinct, vivid projections that flood an upstage wall and tonally envelop the otherwise bare stage. As the play snakes through a range of glitzy New York locations, each setting comes into view with instant flair. Jessica Hung Han Yun's characteristically bold lighting and Mike Winship's ambient soundscape reinforce these frequent changes with verve.

The evening is also propelled by smoothly gripping performances. Corrin impresses with her portrayal of Anna's naturally edgy allure and her fierce commitment to her distorted take on the American dream. Rizwan neatly presents an affable and naïve Ariel whose attraction to the mysterious Anna is underpinned by complex aspirations of his own. The chemistry between the two is strong enough to work its magic even when they occasionally embody other characters, each quirky in its own way.

Anna X paints a brutally familiar world where playing cool and standing out from the crowd are essential to social ascension and where sexy concepts and shiny ideas, including those that one fashions about and for oneself, can ruthlessly trump bare facts. As such, it has a lot to suggest about our contrived personas on social media, our variously skewed relationships with authenticity and truth. There are some moments when the play's preoccupation with these wider issues overshadows its narrative momentum, causing the tempo to drop. Notwithstanding the efficient economy of its 80-minute length, Charlton's play could have been even more compact, pruning some of its peripheral scenes and its allusive discussions about life in the digital masquerade.

Still, the intriguing story comes rife with great humour and permeated by an acute sense of contemporary culture: Anna X knows how to play most of its cards right. As the final instalment of a season dedicated to championing emerging talent on the West End stage, this commercial upgrade gloriously confirms that youthful ambition, especially when supported, can create wonders in the theatre.

Anna X at the Harold Pinter Theatre until 4 August and then 10-14 August at the Lowry Theatre, Salford

Photo credit: Helen Murray

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