PATRICK MARMION: Emma's to Di for… but this play is empty inside

Emma’s to Di for… but this dazzling play is empty inside: PATRICK MARMION’s first night review

ANNA X, Harold Pinter Theatre, London

Rating:

Much more exciting than any of that, though, is the fact that Corrin is making her West End debut. And it comes as no surprise that the Golden Globe award-winner is actually pretty good

Until recently, Emma Corrin was best known for playing Lady Di in The Crown on Netflix. 

But in the past few weeks she may have become more famous for a black and white photo of her ‘breast binding’ on social media app Instagram.

And this after an announcement in June that her preferred pronouns are now ‘she/they’.

Much more exciting than any of that, though, is the fact that Corrin is making her West End debut. And it comes as no surprise that the Golden Globe award-winner is actually pretty good.

She plays a character based on the notorious Russian-born swindler Anna Sorokin – a former London art student who posed as a German heiress to scam banks, hotels and millionaires in New York out of huge sums of money.

Jailed for grand larceny in 2019, Sorokin’s exploits have already been filmed for Netflix (the result, Inventing Anna, is expected early next year), while HBO have a series of their own in the works too.

Since the US government is trying to ensure she doesn’t make a cent from her crimes, the ‘fake heiress’, as she’s come to be known, must be wondering if she’d have been better off writing her story than living it.

What’s changed in Joseph Charlton’s play is that Anna is presented as a blithely amoral party animal who latches onto fictional tech millionaire Ariel (Nabhaan Rizwan, star of BBC1’s Informer), who’s made his money with an exclusive dating app. 

She targets him at a nightclub and he obligingly falls under her spell as she strings him along with her loveable eccentricity, reckless behaviour and tales of using Class A drugs as suppositories (the ‘X’ of the title, may be a rating).

Anna is, in short, a sociopathic gold digger. The contrast with Corrin’s Lady Di, a bashful Sloane Ranger interned by the Royal Family, couldn’t be greater.

Offering friendly advice to the gullible Ariel, she says: ‘Don’t be amazed by anything. The world wants to be deceived. Never contend with someone with nothing to lose. And if all else fails, cry.’

If we’re honest, we all know someone a bit like this.

She targets him at a nightclub and he obligingly falls under her spell as she strings him along with her loveable eccentricity, reckless behaviour and tales of using Class A drugs as suppositories (the ‘X’ of the title, may be a rating)

Charlton’s play is, therefore, an old-fashioned cautionary tale: But one set in the beautiful bubble of New York’s super rich. Corrin and Rizwan play Anna, Ariel as well as myriad other characters.

The semi-satirical dialogue is composed of executive gibberish, art world babble and tech-start-up wittering.

At one point, the artist Damien Hirst is quoted saying: ‘Sometimes I have nothing to say and I need to communicate this.’ In many ways, the play is, like its heroine – brilliantly evasive.

There is never any attempt to diagnose why Anna is the way she is. As Ariel says, she’s just a kind of ‘vapour trail’. 

But as a result, Corrin doesn’t have much to work with. As Anna, she’s devious and manipulative (obviously). Doubling up briefly as one of Ariel’s exes, she makes a convincing Californian airhead, too.

Until recently, Emma Corrin was best known for playing Lady Di in The Crown on Netflix

All sympathy goes to Rizwan’s Ariel, who’s almost willingly taken to the cleaners. ‘A moth to the flame of her unkindness,’ he laments. He thinks wealth and status make him invulnerable – and he duly gets his comeuppance.

Daniel Raggett’s hi-tech production is played out in front of a wall of video screens and is like an art installation, providing the spectacle of galleries, Manhattan’s concrete valleys, night clubs and hotel rooms. 

Best of all is a huge animated postcard of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge that threatens to upstage the actors completely. But like Anna’s mission, the play is something of a dazzling cosmetic hoax: Superficially impressive, but empty inside.

Just be careful about telling that to ‘she/they’.

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