Venue: Drama Barn
Running Until: 27th March
Written By: Martin Crimp
Directed By: Sarah Lewis
Produced By: Miriam Gilkes
Sound Design, Tech and Assistant Direction By: Michael Middleton
Edgy, experimental, non-linear and stylishly monochromatic, Attempts On Her Life in Week 7 at the Drama Barn brings us something hard to pin down but absolutely refreshing to watch. Martin Crimp’s 1997 play, subtitled Seventeen Scenarios For Theatre, attempts to define, contain, justify, explore, reject and appraise the life of the multi-faceted Anne/Annie/Anya. With possibly the barest set design the Barn has ever seen, interesting and extensive use of music and sound, and a tireless bunch of talented ladies on the stage, this week’s play holds its own within the Barn repertoire.
In an overwhelming multitude of words, opinions, and descriptions, Anne is painted variously as a porn actress, a terrorist, a wife and mother, a brand of car, a suicidal artist, and much more. The avalanche of dialogue – often ironic, occasionally very funny, and cryptic in its progression – switches seamlessly between casual and improvisational to highly stylised and even mechanic. The retelling of these different fragments of Anne are like short films or adverts being devised and scripted on the spot: sometimes in a comic tone that is aware and appreciative of the absurdity of the multitudinous identity it is documenting, sometimes in the sickeningly sweet tones of consumer culture – but always embellished, revisited, incomplete and changeable. Although the focal point of all this, Anne, is conspicuously absent and silenced by the attempted retelling of her own life by others, this playfully choreographed, narratively eccentric play has a sure voice – or rather, many voices.
The cast members had a long and relentless performance ahead of them, remaining on stage from beginning till end; figuratively looking entrapped there, even, by the white rectangle marking the space where the action took place. It is difficult to praise any particular one, as they were very natural and expressive as an ensemble. Projecting hints of distinct personalities while maintaining a mix of collective coherence and very well timed, simultaneous movement/speech, they must also be commended for what couldn’t have been an easy script to memorise. The idealistic, comically well-timed one-liners that Francesca Murray-Fuentes delivered were a great addition, as was the repetition of “trademark!” after the mention of a product or of God, which in its critical undertone invoked many appreciative chuckles from the audience.
Touching abstractly – even absurdly – upon but never being overwhelmed by many contemporary issues such as consumerism, Hollywood culture, HIV, war, and racism, Attempts On Her Life makes its best remarks in terms of the unreality of representation; the power of words; the objectification of a life. Don’t go expecting a clear, conclusive two hours – it would be an injustice to what is a very different, enjoyable, successfully multifarious and contemporary piece.