New York is famously a city in which anybody can reinvent themselves. And perhaps nobody pursued reinvention with such vigour as Anna Delvey, the working-class Russian art student who moved to the Big Apple in 2013 and posed as a wealthy German heiress. She fraudulently lived the socialite dream until the various scams she’d concocted to compensate for her lack of actual money finally caught up with her.
For what are presumably sound legal reasons Joseph Charlton’s ‘Anna X’ is not officially about Delvey – rather its eponymous protagonist has a more or less identical story, but with a few details tweaked.
The most significant tweak is the presence of a boyfriend. Nabhaan Rizwan’s Ariel is an affable American tech bro who has attracted a fortune in investment for his wilfully elitist dating app, on which only around six percent of applicants are even accepted.
He meets the funny, playful, apparently minted Anna (Emma Corrin, aka Lady Di from ‘The Crown’) while they’re both off their faces on something or other at a club night. They fall for each other. It’s only when she skips out and casually leaves him to pay an exorbitant hotel bill that there’s the first inkling something is up.
‘Anna X’ is a weird play. It’s very good on the idea of society as an arbitrary, transactional construct. Is there anything so different about Ariel trying to talk up the value of his app to unicorn investors and Anna trying to extract money from the great and good of NYC via an art foundation?
But there’s a surprising lack of grit here. For a tech guy hawking an outrageously elitist product, Ariel comes across as an extremely pleasant, uncomplicated individual. And while you can imagine Delvey probably did exhibit some of the puckishly intriguing vagueness that Corrin brings to the table, the attempts to flesh out her back story and motives feel bland, with zero effort made to convey any sense that she might be from a different cultural background to Ariel. It feels like Charlton has taken a very specific story – that of Delvey – smoothed out some of the complexities, and diluted it by adding a much less interesting second story.
Still, whatever edge the script lacks, it has to be said that Daniel Raggett directs the hell out of this thing, with the aid of a fine team. Retina-searing projections, a kinetic, ‘80s-tinged electro-pop soundtrack and live video, it has a sturm und drang cinematic immensity that probably makes it seem weightier than it is.
It’s worth saying that legal restrictions are almost certainly the main reason for ‘Anna X’ not being a ‘proper’ Anna Delvey play. It‘s come on an impressive journey since it premiered at the fringe Vault festival in 2019, and Raggett’s production has stepped up to fill the space with effortless confidence. But like Delvey herself, it’s not quite the thing that it wants to be.