Wires snake around hips and scatter across the shoulders, feeding into a set of headphones. Once fitted about one’s ears, the audience are free to stare at their own ghostly faces, reflected on a sheet of two-way glass. Window panes are drawn in white ink, their clarity swallowed suddenly as darkness falls. Footsteps echo sharply in the gloom, a sense of apprehension made acute by the inability to place the person to whom they belong. Every sound is intensified – the dropping of keys on the floor, water splashing in the sink, the gnawing teeth of a zip. All work to establish what develops into an uneasy act of voyeurism.
Created by Ella Hickson along with sound designers Ben and Max Ringham, ANNA grants its spectator access to the most intimate details that arise across a single evening in Berlin, 1968. From the start, the action is taut – stretched tightly over Anna (played brilliantly by Phoebe Fox) and her husband Hans (Paul Bazely) as they navigate a party celebrating his recent promotion. Doused in an amber hue, their flat begins to fill with a storm of chatter as friends flood through the door. However, when Anna recognises a member of their group as a face from her traumatic past, any semblance of decorum begins to fray at the edges.
The choreography of drunken gesticulation and tipsy smiles is soon underpinned by drama that takes place behind closed doors. Designed by Vicki Mortimer, the stagecraft mirrors the plot as it twists and turns, consistently pulling on the threads that join public and private spaces together. So delicately are the senses disturbed, that when more robust techniques are observed (such as John Clark’s use of lighting), the resulting tension is almost unbearable.
In keeping with the era in question, our implicit – or complicit – presence is perfectly illustrative of the satellite state of the Soviet Union. This link between audience and performer makes for heady spectatorship; the inextricable ties between the emotional and physical both onstage and off, exhilarating. Indeed, a disproportionate amount of destruction is staged despite ANNA’s slender running time. At an hour in length, a feeling of claustrophobia can be attributed to this in much the same way as with the layers present within the narrative. It is as if these characters have been housed in a matchbox and we have been given licence to look through its striking surface, watching as their world goes up in flames.
ANNA is playing the Dorfman Theatre at the National Theatre until 15 June. For more information and tickets, see the National Theatre website.