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A CurtainUp London London Review
Anna Christie

But don't never say again he ain/t good enough for me. It/s me ain't good enough for him. — Anna
Anna Christie
Ruth Wilson as Anna with Jenny Galway as Marthy Owen in the background
(Photo: Johan Persson)
If we had to name an actress for our day who measures up to the reputation of the enigmatic Garbo, it surely would be Ruth Wilson who has an ability to emotionally envelop an audience with her unique combination of beauty, vulnerability and determination. From her entrance in Rob Ashford's production of Eugene O'Neill's Anna Christie at the Donmar Warehouse, I simply could not take my eyes off her.

It is hard to remember that this play is from as long ago as 1922 looking as it does, at the relationship between men and their families and the sea. Ironically it is her father's attempt to give Anna a secure life on land, living with her cousins on a farm, which projects her into two years of prostitution. As she comes to live with her sea faring father (David Hayman), not a building janitor as she believed, but a mariner on his coal barge, she experiences a freedom not felt before. On the atmospheric fog swirling barge, she experiences a kind of catharsis. After a terrible storm, brilliantly staged on the steeply raked set in the tiny Donmar, with crashing waves and rain, with the backsound of sea shanties, she comforts the near drowning Irish stoker, Mat Burke (a bulked up, muscular Jude Law). "Is it dreaming I am?", he asks her.

This love story threatens to go badly wrong when Anna tells the irascible Irishman the truth of her recent past and she is condemned by both her father and the man who has said he wants to marry her. Interesting, is it not, that since Bible times, women are blamed for being no better than they ought when the instruments of this sexual activity, the male customers at the brothel and the child abusing cousins are not condemned?

This production is designed with style. Lovely period costumes and the storms and sounds of the sea draw you in. David Hayman as the old, gnarled Swedish sailor, Chris Christopherson, salt in his blood, heavily Nordic accented, experiences the jealousy of a father who has not seen his daughter since he left her with relatives, where in Anna's words they "keep me on a farm and work me like a dog". Anna's arrival shows her diffidence in this strange situation, meeting a stranger, as she orders drinks in the bar and fidgets uncomfortably as she waits for her father. When he does arrive, she wipes off the red lipstick in a hurried gesture aimed at instant respectability.

Jude Law is unrecognisable as the uncouth stoker, with a heavy accent from rural Ireland. He brims over with a lack of sophistication and flashes of bad temper when he throws furniture around. We lack reassurance that the future with him will be untroubled but Anna has the capacity for forgiveness. It is a tour de force of a blustering performance from Law, in nice contrast with the rich, emotional integrity of Ruth Wilson's exposed Anna. With her curled blonde bob, dark expressive eyebrows and a mouth full of vulnerability, the moral predicament of her situation will stay with you.

If you haven't got tickets, get up at the crack of dawn to be in the queue for the opening of the Donmar box office and the allocation of day seats, to see the stellar Ruth Wilson in a small theatre where every seat is a good one.

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Anna Christie
Written by Eugene O'Neill
Directed by Rob Ashford

Starring: Ruth Wilson, Jude Law, David Hayman
With: Paul Brightwell, Michael Walters, Matt Wilman, Robert Lonsdale, Henry Pettigrew, Jenny Galloway
Design: Paul Wills
Lighting: Howard Harrison
Composer and Sound Design: Adam Cork
Production sponsored by Arielle Tepper Madover
Running time: Two hours 30 minutes including an interval
Box Office: 0844 871 7624
Booking to 8th October 2011but sold out apart from day seats
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 13th August 2011 matinée performance at the Donmar Warehouse, Earlham Street, London WC2H 9LX (Tube: Covent Garden)

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