Reviews West End & Central Published 23 May 2019

Review: Anna at National Theatre

11th May - 15th June 2019

“You can’t build a country on wants”: Maddy Costa writes on Ella Hickson’s play, feminism and capitalism.

Maddy Costa

‘Anna’ at National Theatre. Set and costume design: Vicki Mortimer. Lighting design: Jon Clark. Sound design: Ben and Max Ringham. Photo: Johan Persson.

18:21:00 cos wasn’t she called Anna as well? That might work.

18:28:30 a bit wonky though? and too big? Not as comfortable as the earphones Fuel use for Glen Neath/David Rosenberg shows.

[21:42:00 or Simon McBurney in The Encounter for that matter.]

18:32:45 late late late and I’ve had to leave the kids and

18:34:00 mmmm dark, although it’s still a bit glowy up on the ceiling there, can I see my hand in front of my nose? Nope. Nice.

18:37:00 this design is so good, I like how the kitchen, and the sideboard along the – oh! The voice in the telephone has moved from my right ear to my left, that means I must be …

18.42:30 except the sound of the toothbrush feels a bit wrong? Like, not inside enou – ohhh, that was creepy! What’s he doing –

[20:07:00 really fucking brilliant you know. I’m going to check if there’s any returns so I can take you to it as well.]

18:45:00 “If it works out, you too could be ironing someone’s shirts”, haaaa burn.

18:45:45 met her once and spoke to her that time so maybe I’m wrong but their voices – their mannerisms – do seem awfully close.

18:49:00 vomit really does sound gross at this proximi–

18:52:45 could it be accused of “ostalgie” though?

[23:43:00 “’Ostalgie’ is a special kind of nostalgia… All over the world there are people who collect old relics from the former East Germany. Trabis, GDR signs, East German food, TV shows – all are examples of Ostalgie.”]

18:56:30 I mean it’s quite interesting when she shuts the door of the bedroom and the sound outside fades down buuuuuuut…

18:59:45 would it though? Would it lose that much if they did it as a regular play and ditched the headphones?

[21:52:00 It’s Anne in Attempts on Her Life, not Anna. Oh, this I can use though: “Brilliant. It’s moving. It’s timely. It’s distressing. It’s funny. It’s sick. It’s sexy. It’s deeply serious. It’s entertaining. It’s illuminating. It’s cryptic. It’s dark.” Haaaa that’s actually almost perfect.]

19:00:30 hang on hang on so her husband who was disappeared by the Stasi was Anna’s husband’s boss, and Anna’s husband got this promotion from the new boss who Anna thinks she knows from when she was a child and her mother was killed by the Russians, and if the new boss is someone else then he’s picked a really shitty name because Neumann obviously = new man, and Carl says he knows Schmidt and doesn’t trust him and Elena – wife of the disappeared man – is still here even though Anna’s husband wanted her to leave and

19:02:00 wow Dieter is being really sleazy with Sophie, he’s such a good actor, what’s his name?

19:04:00 oh god it’s not going to do another Boys is it? I just… what was that thing she said about it not being a feminist play?

[22:14:00 Me on Ella Hickson’s Boys in 2012: “It unsettled me to such a disproportionate degree that within five minutes of arriving home I was arguing lividly with my husband, who told me I shouldn’t see these things if they’re going to upset me so much.” Which is why I never saw Oil and very nearly almost didn’t see The Writer.]

[22:18:00 Andrew Haydon on Boys:“It’s ‘No Such Thing As Society’ turned into a character in a play. And, apparently, a character in a play who, despite his flaws, we’re supposed to take seriously.”]

[22:05:00 “Every time Hamlet goes on, people don’t talk about it as a treatise on masculinity. But if a woman happens to write a play with a woman in it, it gets called feminist. This – ANNA – will probably get called feminist!” [Hickson] grimaces. “But it’s set in 1968, it’s got 10 people in the cast and it’s a sound experiment.”]

19:06:15 This is SUCH a feminist play! Everything Anna is saying about how she talks to her economics students about social organisation and collective responsibility: feminist!

[22:38:00 The fact that Anna teaches economics at a university: feminist!]

19:07:15 Everything Anna is saying about the “deep sickness of inequality” and how people are “made fearful by the hunger for profit”: FEMINIST! But specifically anti-capitalist feminist.

[23:45:00 “’A lot of people from the GDR still feel they don’t belong or that they’re strangers in unified Germany. Life in the GDR was just more manageable,’ Klaus Schroeder, sociologist and political scientist at Berlin’s Free University.”]

[22:55:00 but then I keep coming back to D–– who has very little patience for my communist romanticism, the frown on her face when I told her about Mark Fisher’s line of argument in Capitalist Realism: “In the 1980s … there were still, in name at least, political alternatives to capitalism. … ‘Really existing socialism’ still persisted, albeit in its final phase of collapse. … The 80s were the period when capitalist realism was fought for and established, when Margaret Thatcher’s doctrine that ‘there is no alternative’ – as succinct a slogan of capitalist realism as you could hope for – became a brutally self-fulfilling prophecy.” I mean, she grew up in Romania, she has a totally different relationship to life in a communist structure, so I really need to pay attention to this.]

[22:03:00 “[The Writer] got totally co-opted into a narrative – a #MeToo, #BurnItDown narrative, whereas the play was about the inescapability of capitalism in our current state,” says Hickson testily.]

19:16:45 ohnoitsgonedarkidontlikeitthisiscreepycreepycreepyaaaargh AAARGH! It’s him!

19:19:00 genius, genius line, because the word “wants” is double-edged. “You can’t build a country on wants” if the wants are individualistic, lust and desire, inward-facing relationships: where’s the community in that, where are the wider social bonds that reach beyond the heterocentric couple and even beyond the nuclear family to create a network of care that supports not only the home but the neighbourhood and more? But also, “You can’t build a country on wants” if the wants are capitalistic, for consumables, irrespective of effect on environment, irrespective of exploitation of labour, throwaway, built for obsolescence to feed the need to buy more, more, more.

[23:17:00 Fisher again: “Capitalism seamlessly occupies the horizons of the thinkable.” But I think that’s what stops this being ostalgie, isn’t it? I mean, that bit where Neumann says “was that dissent?” is so chilling – there’s a palpable sense of danger in the room. Again: such good acting.]

[21:54:00 I like this from the Guardian on Attempts on Her Life too: “It is driven by a radical contempt for the new global capitalism and its attempt to turn us all into peripatetic, depersonalised consumers.” Is that Billington? Honestly, that fucking line in his Anna review: “too much intellectual cargo for a short play to carry” for fuck’s sake please! The concision of it, the compact distillation of ideas, is integral to the power. Not sure I thought that at the half way point but by the end, and now…]

[22:18:00 of course Dieter is played by Michael Gould who played the dodgy director in The Writer, that’s perfect. I mean, she says it’s a sound experiment, and it is, but there’s some really deep thinking she’s doing about sexuality, and expectations pinned to gender related to sexual violence, manipulation, aggression – I could trace a through line from the final scene of The Writer to this.]

[23:59:00 “Faced with these two visions of feminism, we find ourselves at a fork in the road, and our choice bears extraordinary consequences for humankind. One path leads to a scorched planet where human life is immiserated to the point of unrecognisability, if indeed it remains possible at all. The other points to the sort of world that has always figured centrally in humanity’s most exalted dreams: a just world whose wealth and natural resources are shared by all, and where equality and freedom are premises, not aspirations.” So then the really interesting question with Anna is, which path from the fork would she take? Would she always take the latter? Or is she here taking the former, justifying the means by the end?]

19:24:45 ohhhh, ohhhh that’s very good. Fuck, that’s a really good twist.

19:26:30 ohmygodohmygodohmygodohmygod

19:28:00 wait, she WHAT? And she’s … And Elena is … fucking hell! Wowowowowowow –

19:29:30 it really is the best line, I’m not surprised she repeated it

19:31:00 what the fuck! You mean she – That means I – fuck! FUCK! Fuckfuckfuckfuck this is fucking brilliant fuuuuuuuck!!!!!

19:33:30 thatwassogoodthatwassogood THAT WAS SO GOOD oh my god oh wait they’ve got signs what do they KEEP US SAFE oh ok NO SPOILERS – no spoilers! But! But! What do I do now?

[21:29:00 “£35 for an hour-long show? No, that’s too much. Let’s not bother.”]

This is a work of partial fiction. Similarity to existing works of fiction are coincidental and may or may not be intentional. All times represented are approximate and should not be used as evidence or submitted to interrogation.

Anna is on at National Theatre until 15th June. More info and tickets here


Maddy Costa

Maddy Costa is a writer, dramaturg, researcher into socially engaged/participatory/community arts, daydreamer and fan of dogs. She works in collaboration with other artists/writers, including Andy Field on the Tiny Letter project Criticism and Love, and Mary Paterson and Diana Damian Martin on Something Other and The Department of Feminist Conversations. Things she likes making include zines, prints, spaces for conversation, cakes and 1950s-style frocks. She hosts a pop-up “book group for performance” called Theatre Club where she has all her best conversations about theatre.

Review: Anna at National Theatre Show Info

Directed by Natalie Abrahami

Cast includes Nathalie Armin, Paul Bazely, Max Bennett, Jamie Bradley, Phoebe Fox, Michael Gould, Georgia Landers, Diana Quick, Lara Rossi, Dwane Walcott



Enter your email address below to get an occasional email with Exeunt updates and featured articles.