Pass me a vodka, it’s tense.
This ain't no sugar-coated Disney adaptation, The Anastasia File at the Theatre Royal Windsor, is so tense you could hear a pin drop (or a mobile phone in this case).
In 1995 Disney made the animated musical movie Anastasia – Meg Ryan gave Anastasia her voice and the scriptwriters gave historians the hump. You see, her story is not what childhood fantasies are made of. So if you’re as obsessed with the gritty realism of Killing Eve‘s Villanelle, then I think you’re going to love Jenny Seagrove’s Anna in this superb Theatre Royal Windsor in-house production.
The Anastasia File is a psychological thriller that questions identity and integrity, and the audience was gripped from start to finish. Up on your Russian history? No, Putin stripped to the waist, wrestling a bear doesn’t count. We’re going back to 1918 when Tsar Nicholas II and his young family are slaughtered by the Bolsheviks. Two years’ later in Berlin, a young woman is pulled from a canal following a failed suicide attempt and brought to a mental hospital.
Doctors and the police haven’t a scooby who she is, but as time passes, she starts to reveal clues to her identity that lead those looking after her to believe she’s the Grand Duchess Anastasia and heir to the Romonov fortune – which is bigger than a Euromillions mega rollover. Sounds pretty far fetched right? But all absolutely true. Google it. There were many imposters but this one was always considered the most plausible.
Did Anastasia, youngest daughter of Tsar Nicholas II, die with the rest of her family in 1918, or did she miraculously escape the bloody massacre? The play, written by Royce Ryton, has just four actors playing 30 characters. Alongside Jenny in the titular role, is Andrew Lancel (Corrie, Casualty) who plays the original detective and also his son and Richard Winsor (Casualty) and Rosie Thomson (The Bill, EastEnders) who mop up multiple characters from barristers, extended Russian royalty, British aristos and more.
Jenny is, without question, phenomenal. Utterly captivating, she seamlessly runs a gamut of emotions and physicalities from medicated gloom to frustrated fury, without missing a beat or letting her Russian accent slip. Andrew Lancel out also puts in a strong performance as the empathetic detective.
But I have to hand it to Rosie and Richard who transition from one character to the next, with ease. The pair brought a maddening intensity to the scenes of cross examination that made us all feel like we were losing out minds. It was tense.
Rather cleverly the staging was stripped back – just a projection of the Romonov crest, a desk and four chairs, with creative lighting techniques to set scenes and mood. Like my gran used to say, cleavage or leg but never both. The same applies here, asking the audience to invest in four actors, three of whom play multiple roles, the simplicity of it, made this production all the more powerful.
For two hours and 10 minutes, you could hear a pin drop (minus the interval double vodka)… until someone’s mobile phone started ringing. I was hoping that Jenny would let rip with her full Russian haughtiness, but she’s far too pro for that. It’s a crazy historic story, given a contemporary staging with a strong cast. It makes it a must-watch in my book.