Anna

This is not an easy show to watch. The work of Anna Politkovskaya, the Russian journalist whose story this show tells, is remarkable and important but deeply disturbing. The production focuses not on Politkovskaya’s life or the political landscape in which she was writing but the trauma of individuals who have been tortured and raped, or who have lost family members in government-organised ‘disappearances’. It doesn’t shy away from graphic details. A scene in which Politkovskaya herself is subjected to a mock execution is particularly gut-grindingly horrifying.

The performance space doesn’t allow you to distance yourself at all from the atrocities: the audience is lined up against the wall of a narrow, fluorescent-lit white corridor. The actors pace up and down the space, almost touching you, sometimes speaking directly to you. From here you can see their commitment to the piece - at least two of the performers are drenched in sweat by the end of the show, and flecks of spittle fly as they shout.

But the zeal of the actors is, at times, one of the show’s main weaknesses. They are constantly moving, panting, yelling, tense. There’s never a moment to reflect on what you’ve heard, to absorb it. The script doesn’t help. It assumes that the best way to emphasise a point is by repeating. Repeating the words. That’s how you create emphasis. By repeating. As a result, several of the confrontations in the play simply involve two very tense actors shouting the same word or phrase at one another over and over again. The repetition and the lack of changes in pace can, in fact, lessen the impact of the powerful source material.

In truth, the part of the show which affected me the most - the only part which brought tears to my eyes - was not anything the actors did, but a piece of paper given out at the end listing the names and details of 28 journalists killed this year. Two are Russians, but many more are Syrian, Pakistani, Egyptian, Brazilian. You suddenly realise that Politkovskaya’s life, work and death are not an isolated incident, but a case study of something happening constantly in any country where the government does not want the people to know what they are doing. Whatever its theatrical flaws, for bringing this fact so searingly to our attention, Anna is well worth watching.

Reviews by Hannah Mirsky

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Performances

The Blurb

The story of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, set in and around a lift, the scene of her assassination. Highlighting the persecution, torture and murder of investigative reporters globally who seek to expose human rights abuses. ‘Surprisingly life-affirming’ (Scotsman).

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