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Anna X review at the Vaults, London – ‘assured, ambitious storytelling’

Joshua James and Rosie Sheehy in Anna X at the Vaults, London

Inspired by the story of Anna Delvey, the socialite-scam artist who managed to con hundreds of thousands of dollars out of people because they assumed she was already loaded, Joseph Charlton’s new play is a smart, sharp study of identity and deception.

Anna (Rosie Sheehy) is an art student who inveigles her way into the New York art set by passing herself off as a Russian heiress and curator. Ariel (Joshua James) is a tech exec who has created an exclusive invite-only dating app that the press is calling the “Illuminati Tinder”. Both have recreated themselves in different ways.

Charlton’s writing is as rich as it is nimble. He’s a skilled world-builder, capturing a backdrop of private views and ‘immersive experiences’ – the bubble of the moneyed. He’s good at choppy Whatsapp to and fro, but also writes rounded, complete characters – Anna is necessarily enigmatic but also sympathetic.

Sheehy’s performance plays a large part in this. In her hands, Anna is more than just a grifter – she makes it easy to see why someone like Ariel would find her fascinating, while James injects some unexpected tenderness into the character of Ariel.

Daniel Raggett’s production is slick and inventive. The opening scene in which the pair first meet at a party, music pounding, sees their dialogue projected on the wall behind them. Mikaela Liakata’s video is used to depict not just cityscapes, but the online world the characters inhabit.

Hopping around in time and from continent to continent, this is ambitious, assured storytelling that digs intelligently into the complex nature of aspiration, the insulation of wealth and the construction of identity in a hyper-connected world.

Brilliant Jerks review at Vaults, London – ‘authoritative and exhilarating’

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Joseph Charlton's assured, ambitious two-hander about identity and deception