Review: Anna Christie

By John Nathan, August 11, 2011

Donmar Theatre, London WC2

Any hope that, with Jude Law starring as a ship's stoker, Rob Ashford's production would rank alongside other starry revivals of Eugene O'Neill - Kevin Spacey's unforgettable The Iceman Cometh or Jessica Lang's harrowing Long Day's Journey into Night - fades with the dawning realisation that this just is not a great play.

Like Shaw's Mrs Warren, O'Neill's Anna Christie reveals that prostitutes, you know, are people too - a lesson that had considerably more impact in the early 20th century than it does in the 21st.

Unlike Shaw, O'Neill opts for the altogether saltier setting of a sailors' bar and then the coal barge on which lives ageing Swedish captain Chris (David Hayman) and his worldly-wise daughter Anna (Ruth Wilson), who before she turned up at the bar, he had not seen since she was five.

Chris lives in blissful ignorance of his daughter's abusive childhood and the life of prostitution that resulted from his sending her away to be brought up on land. That history is inevitably revealed after Law's shipwrecked Irish stoker, Mat, hauls himself out of a raging sea and onto the wooden deck of Chris's and Anna's barge. It is one hell of an entrance.

Naked from the waist up, Law's muscular sea dog is all bravado and brawn. With an Irish brogue as broad as his shoulders he immediately woos Anna with tales of unbridled
strength and confessions of undying love.

Ashford's production is powerfully played. Law reveals the innate decency that lies within Mat's thuggish exterior. And Wilson is also very fine, balancing a yearning for love and a dignified refusal to be unfairly judged.

But the truths revealed lack the devastating impact of O'Neill's greater plays. There is the same sense here of people being trapped in their lives, but only by attitudes they could easily choose to throw overboard.

Tel: 0844 871 7624

Last updated: 11:19am, August 11 2011