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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