Friday, 20 December 2019

Anna REVIEW, until 22 Dec 2019 ***1/2

by Bagryana Popov, presented by La Mama Theatre 
at La Mama Courthouse, until Dec 22, 2019 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 
Stars: ***1/2

This review also published in print in Herald Sun on Friday 20 Dec 2019 (not online). KH
Bagryana Popov_Anna_ pic by Justin Ko

In her solo performance, Anna, Bagryana Popov depicts the grim and perilous world of Bulgaria during the Stalinist Soviet era when government surveillance and spying on loved ones was the norm.

Anna, the narrator and central character, is married with one child and is a writer of children’s stories. At the beginning of the play, Anna is an old woman who recalls the desperate period from 1949 to the early 1950s when she was manipulated by the Secret Police to act as an informer.

Popov tells the story through Anna’s eyes, but also populates the stage with eccentric characters, including an ugly bureaucrat and his weaselly assistant, Secret Police, a shrill neighbour and Anna’s husband’s mistress, amongst others.

The first half of the piece, deftly directed by John Bolton, is particularly compelling, disturbing and often funny as we laugh at the sheer absurdity of the bureaucracy confronting Anna as she negotiates a Catch 22 situation involving money deposited in a bank account in her name.

Although the second half feels less cohesive – perhaps because there is less narration by older Anna to thread it together – there are some quirky and engaging scenes with Popov portraying Anna’s fantastical fairy tales, her escalating isolation, poverty and, eventually, her paranoia.

Popov is known for her work with the Bulgarian women’s choir, and she incorporates into the narrative several Bulgarian songs that evoke a sense of place and imbue the characters with colour.

In the sparse set design (Lara Week), towering, grey filing cabinets cast long, forbidding shadows, while gloomy lighting (Bronwyn Pringle) accentuates the bleakness of this secretive and dangerous totalitarian world.

In this 21st century, many people still live under despotic regimes, suffering surveillance and forced to keep secrets and speak in whispers to remain safe and free.

Anna is pertinent in our world because the Bulgaria of the 1950s and its Secret Police may be just a change of government away.

by Kate Herbert

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