Anna K – Malthouse Theatre (VIC)
Reviewed by Martha 'MJ' Latham
Until 4th September Malthouse Theatre, Melbourne
How much does a woman need to sacrifice in order to maintain her autonomy? This is the question Suzie Miller asks us in Anna K. The play follows famed reporter Anna as she confronts a journalist's worst fear, becoming the story. As the public learns of her relationship with an ex-informant, she finds herself at the centre of a rumour storm about her love life, her capability as a mother and her credibility as a journalist.
Caroline Craig as Anna K is everything you could want from theatre; bold, loud and no holds barred. Her shaky, breathy tears, her flashes of anger and all the other trappings that come with an anxiety attack were particularly poignant. Craig didn't just make you see anxiety, she made you anxious for her.
(c) Pia Johnson
Anna K doesn't have a lot in common with Tolstoy’s 1878 novel, Anna Karenina. Beyond the names, a train and the use of an affair, this play is more focused on the media frenzy that can circulate a powerful woman, particularly when the story involves sex. This is an adaptation that uses Tolstoy’s stories and its criticisms to create something entirely different. Miller isn't just tapping into Tolstoy's work, but also the public consciousness that surrounds it.
The play does a good job of dragging the work into the modern era, hopeful ending and all. It's still remarkably old fashioned at times; the audience member beside me audibly laughed when Anna remarked on her next big story "Sexual Assault in the Banking Industry!", as if it were some huge expose and not simply an expected reality.
Further to this, it's still upsetting to only see stories about the upper class in Australian theatre. Similar to Miller’s smash-hit Prima Facie, the play explores the struggles that face powerful, rich, white women and never really explores any intersectionality beyond that. We're made to feel as though Anna's whole life has been ruined by this event, as though she won't be able to go back to a home she probably owns, a bed with quality linen sheets and fridge full of organic produce. The play was made for audience members much older and richer than I, and it's disappointing to see work like this coming from young minds like Licciardello.
Anna K is a play that stands on its own and fits well within the current cultural climate.
Designer Anna Cordingley boldly sets the work in front of a constantly glowing, pink neon sign that reads "Stupid Fucking Slut". Paul Jackson lights the stage like a film, with cool white front lighting and a general blue wash allowing the pink sign to stay ever present in our minds.
The rest of the cast do aptly. Callan Colley plays the heroic loverboy well and Louisa Mignone plays a raft of different characters. Both of their performances feel stiff and unconnected to the rest of the world of the play - this felt more like a one woman play with two extras. I couldn't help but feel the addition of the other two characters served no purpose other than to create a more realistic world for Anna.
Anna K is a play that stands on its own and fits well within the current cultural climate. A climate of appealing towards what feels to be a progressive mindset, while still only exploring the feelings and emotions of the powerful. Is it something I want to see more of? No. But is it something the majority older, rich and white theatre crowd will enjoy, something that will hopefully be used to finance more interesting Australian work? I don't know Malthouse, you tell me.
Anna K plays at the Malthouse Theatre until the 4th September. Tickets can be booked at Malthousetheatre.com.au
CREATIVES WRITER Suzie Miller DIRECTOR Carissa Licciardello SET & COSTUME DESIGNER Anna Cordingley LIGHTING DESIGNER Paul Jackson SOUND DESIGNER & COMPOSER Joe Paradise Lui VOICE ARTIST Brigid Gallacher VOICE ARTIST Jing-Xuan Chan STAGE MANAGER Lyndie Li Wan Po ASSISTANT STAGE MANAGER Cointha Walkeden
CAST Callan Colley Caroline Craig Louisa Mignone