Monday, 18 March 2019

REVIEW: The Anastasia File - The Little Theatre, Altrincham.


For most of the twentieth century, the case of Anastasia was one of the great 'what ifs' of recent history, inspiring the arts with (amongst other works) a glossy Hollywood production in 1955 and a Disney animation in 1997. However, these various adaptations all put a glamorous twist on the tale, typically centring on a romance and set against a luxurious backdrop. ‘The Anastasia File’, takes an austere, no-nonsense approach to the story, concentrating on the authority’s attempts to discover the protagonist’s true identity without adding any glitzy trappings.

Unusually for Altrincham Little Theatre, the set was simple and stylised, in keeping with the modern presentation of constantly changing settings, typically being either a police or medical backdrop; a far cry from the Hollywood/Disney idea of court balls and palaces. This worked well with the non-stop plethora of characters who either had some connection with the Romanov family or were trying to either interrogate or treat the ‘Grand Duchess’, well-handled by Director Lisa Barker. In telling the story, this worked well, giving the audience a good, overall perspective of Anastasia’s world at the Russian Court and the situations in which the woman claiming to be her now found herself. Unfortunately, this was let down several times by clumsy dialogue, with far too much exposition. It just seemed a bit too much to believe that a nurse would make an off-hand comment about Russia and in so doing give an overview of Russian foreign policy in 1914 only to receive in reply from Anastasia a concise analysis of Russian policy regarding Serbia at that time.

Kathryn Fennell excelled as Mrs. Manahan (the name by which Anastasia was eventually known) bringing over all the emotional anguish of the refugee woman, whilst maintaining the intrigue as to whether or not she was who she said she was. Malcolm Cooper played the part of the Inspector well, with an air of authority, although was perhaps just a bit too sympathetic to be completely convincing (this was Germany on its knees after being defeated in 1920 after all). The rest of the cast, Stephen Moss, Christine Perry and Cherrill Wyche, clearly enjoyed themselves, each playing numerous characters with a host of moods, costumes and accents. Considering the subject matter, some of the characters portrayed had a high degree of comedy, well appreciated by the audience, whilst many others simply reflected the austere mood of the time, during a turbulent post-war period. The costuming for the most part effectively represented all the various characters, from European aristocracy, cooks and soldiers to American Immigration and medical orderlies. Against all this, Anastasia was presented as an isolated figure and never seemed to fully open up to anyone and this was much more convincing than the numerous preceding romanticised versions of the story.

‘The Anastasia File’ is very much a historical play but it is equally a psychological study of a lost individual and worthy of examination regardless of whether the central figure really was the only surviving member of the Romanov family or just a clever but complicated imposter. The human aspects of the ‘Anastasia’ figure are well brought over and there are too many incongruities for this to be dismissed as just an attempt by her to masquerade for personal gain. The movement of the story from Germany to America brought an added dimension to the story and there was as much intrigue as to who else Mrs Manahan might have been if she was not actually Anastasia and that is a mystery which continues to endure. At least, as we were reminded in the play, this was one name which could never be taken away from her.

Reviewer - John Waterhouse
on - 17/3/19

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