Attempts On Her Life

  • Date:
    Thursday, March 15, 2007
    Review by:
    Peter Brown

    I am a self-confessed gadget-freak (or neophiliac, if you prefer). Apparently scientists think it's caused by increased levels of the enzyme monoamine oxidase (see, you learn something every day). A friend's mother in the United States is also addicted to gadgets and once bought an electric fork! Now take your time thinking about that one. When ready, read on ...

    I'm not certain whether to describe 'Attempts On Her Life' as a play or something quite different. In fact it is quite different. No, it's very different. Certainly, in terms of both the script and Katie Mitchell's production of it, there is little in the way of what one would normally regard as a play. For example, there is no discernible plot and little in the way of a narrative that one can follow. On top of that, there are no characters - in fact the piece was written with apparently no lines defined for any particular character. I say 'no characters' but in fact a name keeps cropping up - 'Anne', or 'Ann', or even maybe 'An' (as in the indefinite article - could be a clue there). Sometimes Anne seems to be a porn star, and at other times various different characters, and at one point even fetches up as a car and some kind of 'art object' being discussed on a 'Newsnight Review' parody.

    Seventeen scenes make up Martin Crimp's 'play' which was first produced at the Royal Court Theatre in 1997 - the same year that Tony Blair bounced into Downing Street with his famous landslide victory. Perhaps it's appropriate that, a decade later, Crimp's play is being revisited just as Blair is about to slink out.

    The main problem with this play - and exaggerated by Katie Mitchell's TV-studio style production of it - is that I felt (as a member of the audience) that I was entirely superfluous to requirements. The busy little actor bees bustled about moving cameras and lights, and playing nice-sounding tunes on a variety of instruments and looked to be having great fun - but they never seemed to draw me in. Huge faces staring Big Brother style at me from an enormous screen did nothing to help. In fact, for the most part, I found myself alienated from events on stage - if that was the intention, the piece succeeded. For much of the time I just couldn't fathom out what was happening, and because the language twists and turns in almost any and every direction, it's hard to lodge a smidgen of it even in your short term memory. So much so, that I found myself thinking about almost anything and everything else under the sun. In fact, this has had some considerable benefits because I made numerous mental notes of other tasks which I have to do, and returned home to find I started doing them. So, something positive there then.

    With actors smoking at almost every conceivable moment, I thought at one juncture that it was some kind of fond farewell or an homage to smoking in public places (the ban comes into force in the summer and, I understand, extends to smoking in performances on the stage). If that was indeed the case, I can only applaud all concerned.

    However, the main thing I came away with from this production was a near-bursting bladder - my fault, I'm afraid, for being addicted to caffeine and not reading the programme to discover there would be no interval in a piece that was close to 2 hours long.

    On the other hand ... my guest enjoyed it immensely (I hope I'm not exaggerating). Well, to be precise, she said 'it was a real treat'. As a writer by trade, she loves language and got a veritable dictionary full of it here in a sort of stream (or torrent) of consciousness. And to be totally fair, there were others who seemed to find it engaging as well as funny, though I detected that the audience were split. There are some scenes, like the 'Newsnight' take-off which rings bells, and there's a police interrogation session about a woman who grows tomato plants in yogurt pots which I also found very funny - but short.

    There are occasions when I go to modern art galleries and am struck with admiration for exhibits which are imaginative, inventive and very, very clever. Then I see something that resembles a pile of old junk, which looks like it's been taken out of someone's rubbish bin and thrown together in 5 minutes, and then someone's persuaded another someone that it's worth a mint because it falls into some slot in the development of art. However, I think I am being duped and the (now immensely rich) artist is slugging back huge quantities of champagne and laughing up his sleeve at my expense, even though this might not be the case or remotely the intention. In the same way, however many languages Martin Crimp's 'play' has been translated into, it doesn't mean it's good, or penetrable. At least not for me. That doesn't mean to say it isn't any good. And it doesn't mean to say it isn't bad. What it does mean is that I don't understand it. That may well be my fault. But then I don't understand much of what is happening in the world anyway, so maybe that's the point too!

    On a final and positive note, my friend and I discussed this play more than anything which we've seen over the past couple of years or so. Again, if this was the playwright's intention, it worked like a dream. Like my friend, you may find this piece is the next best thing to sliced bread, but nagging and gnawing away at the back of my mind is the possibility that it might just be an electric fork!


    What the popular press had to say.....
    NICHOLAS DE JONGH for THE EVENING STANDARD says, "A dreadful form of directorial embellishment." SARAH HEMING for THE FINANCIAL TIMES says, "Witty, super-slick staging." ALICE JONES for THE INDEPENDENT says, "Felt just like an art installation - slick, chilly and a little shallow." MICHAEL BILLINGTON says, "Much as I admire Crimp's text, I'm not sure it is helped by Katie Mitchell's hi-tech revival, which has strong echoes of her recent version of Virginia Woolf's Waves." BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE for THE TIMES says, "Mitchell’s cast kept me absorbed and alert." CHARLES SPENCER for THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, "Theatre needs to do more than intrigue: it needs to move and involve us, and those are qualities beyond Crimp's grasp."

    External links to full reviews from popular press
    The Guardian
    Financial Times
    Daily Telegraph
    The Times

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