Anna review: Tale of spies, lies and secrets is frustratingly sketchy
Here’s a crafty idea: give audiences individual headsets to listen to a play set in East Germany, a notorious surveillance state and one of the most spied-upon societies known to history.
At the creative helm is that magnificent writer Ella Hickson, author of two of the finest plays of recent years with Oil and The Writer, working in collaboration with sound designers Ben and Max Ringham. Yet this skimpy hour-long offering sells everyone, the always chillingly fascinating East Germany included, short.
We’re in a surveillance state all right: we watch the action from behind a translucent screen — designer Vicki Mortimer — which we soon learn represents the windows looking out over Berlin from the new flat of married Anna (Phoebe Fox) and Hans (Paul Bazely). On the night in question, the couple are holding a small gathering to celebrate Hans’s promotion. A gradually unravelling Anna thinks she recognises Hans’s coolly unsettling new boss Christian (Max Bennett), that he’s connected with another secret in this world of secrets, lies and sudden “disappearances”, this one concerning an atrocity at the end of the Second World War.
It’s all frustratingly sketchy stuff; there is, for example, a fleeting reference to the state-sanctioned doping of East German athletes, but nothing more is made of it. Natalie Abrahami’s production sees a cast of 10 fine actors sorely underused, with seven of the characters causing barely a ripple. Fox is as fine as she customarily is, making Anna all nerves and conviction, but how we long for the backstories to be fleshed out. More could be made of the binaural possibilities of the headphones too, although what the Ringhams capture well is a tapestry of furtive whispers.
Until June 15 (020 7452 3000, nationaltheatre.org.uk)