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Anna review – National Theatre (Dorfman)

As fans of Dark Side of the Moon will attest, some things seem made to be listened to through headphones.

So it is with Ella Hickson’s new play at the National’s intimate Dorfman Theatre.

Visitors arrive to find a pair of Sennheisers draped across the backrest. A soft, yet firm, recorded voice encourages you to put them on the right way round.

ANNA at the Dorfman Theatre (Photo: Johan Persson)

The stage itself is separated from the audience by a giant sheet of glass, so before the play starts you can enjoy the reflection of yourself looking like a nightclub DJ.

Why the headphones? Well, what makes Anna so unique is its sound design by Ben and Max Ringham.

Tiny sonic moments usually lost on a theatre audience – the flick of a light switch, the strike of a match, an intimate kiss – are delivered to your ears in stunning detail wherever you are seated.

Phoebe Fox gives a brilliantly intense performance as Anna Weber, a woman who lives with her husband Hans (Paul Bazely) in a flat in 1968 East Berlin. Max Bennett is superbly chilling as Christian Neumann, Hans’s new boss.

Max Bennett as Christian Neumann (Photo: Johan Persson)

“Why is everyone having conversations that no-one is allowed to hear?” Anna asks in a paranoid moment during a party to celebrate Hans’s recent promotion.

That line sums up the brilliance of this play. Everything is heard from the perspective of its titular character, meaning that much of the conversation elsewhere in the flat becomes muted or out of earshot.

Conversely, whispered asides to Anna – and whatever she does behind the privacy of her bedroom door – are heard with astonishing clarity.

The result is an unnerving Cold War thriller for the ears. That said, this is no radio play. Director Natalie Abrahami expertly ensures that the dimly-lit visuals also feed the growing sense of paranoia.

This is an immersive hour of theatre that often had me not daring to breathe. Like Pink Floyd’s classic LP, I’d happily have this on repeat.

Anna is at the Dorfman Theatre until 15 June

When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other – National Theatre (Dorfman)

It made a lot of headlines, but what it was that caused an audience member to “faint” during a preview of Martin Crimp’s new play at the National is hard to fathom.

True, there’s plenty of weird sado-masochism on display in the double garage where the story unfolds, but it’s no worse than anything you might stumble across on Netflix.

Maybe it was the sight of Cate Blanchett dressed as a maid squirting the Audi parked on the stage with shaving foam. Surely some contravention of motoring etiquette.

Blanchett is, of course, the reason that tickets for this sold-out show were allotted by ballot. She’s the reason that the queue for day tickets starts at about 3am in sub-zero temperatures (it’s true, I know someone who did it).

She and Stephen Dillane play a couple who – along with some invited friends – act out an S&M fantasy based upon Samuel Richardson’s 18th Century novel Pamela.

The sexual power shifts constantly between the two, both of whom are in stockings and suspenders. Genders, clothes, wigs and bodily fluids are swapped. Blood is spilt.

The intimate Dorfman Theatre is perfect for this kind of stuff. Under Katie Mitchell’s direction, it’s thrilling to see Blanchett and Dillane giving it their all up close. Jessica Gunning is excellent too in the Mrs Jewkes housekeeper role.

But the sexual power play just goes on and on. It feels like a 10 minute drama workshop stretched out to two hours.

I was desperately hoping for the garage sex games to be interrupted by a neighbour coming round to borrow a ladder.

And I don’t mean one in Dillane’s stockings.

The Tell-Tale Heart – National Theatre (Dorfman)

Inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s short story, this new play written and directed by Anthony Neilson offers plenty of Christmas-time chills.

It’s hard to describe the story in much detail without giving spoilers. In brief, a playwright (Tamara Lawrence) rents an attic room in Brighton to work on her next play and forms a relationship with her landlady (Imogen Doel), who wears an eye mask for reasons she doesn’t like to discuss.

Fans of the original Poe tale (printed in the programme) will know it doesn’t end well.

Lawrence and Doel admirably handle the multi-layered plot’s blend of comedy and horror without tipping it into farce. And I very much enjoyed the dual nature of David Carlyle’s detective.

It does go a bit Twilight Zone at times, but there are genuine shocks and scares to be had here, not least from the ingenious lighting and set design. The playwright’s typewriter is a particular delight.

After this you’ll never look at eyes – or eggs – in the same way.