Joseph Charlton’s play, inspired by the case of fake Russian heiress Anna Sorokin, requires her to be tough, alluring, enigmatic and funny and to play a couple of male characters to boot. Corrin pulls it off with insouciant ease and is well matched by Nabhaan Rizwan – from that other lockdown TV hit, Industry - as Ariel, the nerdy, needy, newly rich app designer who Anna possibly likes but ruthlessly exploits.
Sorokin ran up hotel bills, falsified financial records and stole from friends while purporting to set up a Manhattan art foundation. Charlton weaves that narrative arc around a combative romance. The two characters repeatedly engage, then break apart to give their sides of the story, like boxers during and after a fight. Daniel Raggett’s 80-minute production is cool and ironic, offset by the rear video wall from designers Mikaela Liakata and Tal Yarden, which blares out club music, saturated New York cityscapes, Whatsapp scrolls and blinding whiteouts.
The preceding two plays in Sonia Friedman’s RE: EMERGE season at the Pinter Theatre introduced new voices and ideas, but Anna X is more complete and polished. It feels fresh, exciting, as shiny as a Jeff Koons sculpture, even if the empty world it depicts would look familiar to both Jay McInerney and F Scott Fitzgerald. All that’s changed is that social media has made social climbing easier.
In Charlton’s fictional take, Anna falls into scamming and is propelled upward by a flair for self-promotion and larceny. Isn’t hers the American Dream, he asks – to make something out of nothing? And in a world where a Warhol painting can sell for $100m, and the mere concept of a dating app for twice that, money loses its meaning. There are deeper echoes here too of how public image is crafted and truth bent in modern politics, but Charlton doesn’t labour the point.
Occasionally Anna’s smart quips are too on the nose: coal, she says, “wants to be diamonds”; cremation will be her “last chance for a smoking body”. At others – particularly in one gasp-inducing line - she is very obviously a man’s idea of a sexy, hard-as-nails femme fatale.
But Corrin, rangy and poised with a chopped-off bob, sells even the weaker moments well, and her comic timing is superb. Rizwan too gives a lovely performance – the couple’s drugged up and drunk flirting is hilarious – but Ariel is very much the straight man here. This show is a blast, at the Pinter for a sadly limited run. I really hope it transfers.
To Aug 4, haroldpintertheatre.co.uk