'Attempts' Review Round-up

There has been crop of interesting reviews for the show we have been working on, Attempts On Her Life. Having sat in rehearsals for several weeks, I (perhaps unfortunately) know every twist of the production. It is therefore very strange to read the opinions of those who are beholding the bizarre spectacle for the first time. And of course, it is rather frustrating when they fail to understand something which has been worked through in painstaking detail…

However, some critics seem to be on the same wavelength. Kate Basset, over at the Independent on Sunday, appreciated the cast’s effort:

[The Cast] mercurially play film industry hacks, journos, porn stars and pop stars with satirical wit, icy callousness, then surfacing fear and despair. This is all while they are filming each other live, appearing both on the stage and on several giant screens.

Though it would take more than one viewing to understand half of what is going on, a disturbing portrait emerges of modern lives being dictated and damaged, manipulated by creative artists and the media with a horrible gulf between glossy ideals and grim realities. Mitchell’s staging is fantastically orchestrated, intelligent and haunting. She and her team emerge here as world class avant-gardists.

Another Kate, Kellaway from the Observer, considers the relationship between our giant screens, and the action on stage:

… in Katie Mitchell’s dazzling new treatment you never feel that anyone on stage is unclear about the material. Their authority deepens our doubt. Who is Anne? Artist? Terrorist? Porn queen? Stories about her jostle in darkness. The key props are cameras which, you suspect, always lie. In a virtuoso alliance of theatre and film (designer Vicki Mortimer), actors’ faces are projected overhead. Every moment on stage has a second, simultaneous life on screen, a dual reality which further weakens any grasp at truth.

Meanwhile, Alice Jones of the weekday version of the Independent is also complimentary about the video design, but worries that it might overwhelm other aspects:

In many cases this video work is spectacular and effectively evokes a society in which life is lived through a lens and every action is filtered by the media. But Crimp’s clever-clever writing is often submerged in the whirl of camera-work and pastiches of the X Files and Nineties music which make up Mitchell’s vision

The same issue is the deal-breaker for Michael Billington at the Guardian:

But Mitchell’s version for me focuses too exclusively on media manipulation at the expense of the play’s political purpose. On a stage crowded with lights, cameras and video screens, each scene becomes a new set-up offering us a different image of Anne. And, while this means the 11 actors are kept restlessly busy, it too often turns the play into a self-conscious media satire … while this reveals Mitchell’s sharp observation of visual cliches, it implies Crimp’s play is principally about the media’s creation of an alternative reality.

What I miss is the moral anger of a work which implies virtually everything in modern society conspires to reduce our sense of self.

Less helpful, I felt, was Charles Spencer from The Daily Telegraph:

Is the heroine a woman or a brand of car? If the author doesn’t know, how can we? … Since Crimp can’t be bothered to name his characters, I won’t bother to name the 11-strong cast. They all perform with wit and ingenuity, keep the cameras running, mime a couple of porn sequences and even perform a little pastiche pop music. But do they touch us? Not once.

This seems to betray a very narrow conception of what theatre can be. The performance is as much a poem as a play, and the fluid nature of the actors’ roles seems to be very much part of the point, the style, of the show. The cast are an ensemble, a troupe, a chorus of sorts, who conspire to create and recreate ‘Anne’. The flexibilty of the piece is one reason why it is so popular with actors and directors, and naming the characters in each scene would force a particular interpretation, something which Martin Crimp obviously wishes to avoid. More importantly, picking out individual characters from those who make the ‘attempts’ would detract and distract us from the various ‘Anne’ characters that Crimp allows his actors to conjour, and then discard. To my mind, the anonymity of the ‘players’ gives each ‘attempt’ a purity it might otherwise lack.

Unfortunately, Nicholas De Jongh of the Evening Standard feels that what purity there may have been in Martin Crimp’s text, this production adulterates it. Awarding the production just a solitary star, he says:

Anyone who attempts to understand, let alone appreciate, Martin Crimp’s satirical panorama of political, cultural and social decadence in the decade before Mr Blair took control of our lives in 1997, will find its director Katie Mitchell gets in the way … Typically the scene’s verbal potency is lost because it succumbs to Mitchellitis – a dreadful form of directorial embellishment.

Writing in The Times, Benedict Nightingale is more complimentary, but perhaps a little biased:

Yet one of the National’s functions is to take risks and embrace the odd and outré. And Claudie Blakley, Kate Duchene, Zubin Varla and the rest of Mitchell’s cast kept me absorbed and alert. But maybe I’m prejudiced. My wife is called Anne.

Screen shot from Attempts on Her Life

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