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Attempts on Her Life

Martin Crimp
RNT Lyttelton
(2007)

Production photo

If your idea of a good night out is a well-made play with a strong plot, avoid the Lyttelton at the moment. However, if you like something out of the ordinary, Katie Mitchell's revival of a definitive play of the 1990s is likely to prove irresistible.

Those who saw the director's re-working of Virginia Woolf's The Waves will know roughly what to expect in terms of staging and the style works pretty well with a play that starts as a blank canvas for directors to project their vision on to.

Martin Crimp set out to deconstruct the nature of this art form and create something very new that would "sum up the mood of a generation" in unusual and unexpected ways, playing with form as well as subject matter. On this occasion, the director has deconstructed the play and in the process proves that it is timeless.

It seems to say as much to us about life today as it did when it was first seen almost exactly ten years ago, directed by Tim Albery at Upstairs at the Royal Court in a staging that was different both in scale and artistic vision.

As with her staging of The Seagull (also with Crimp) and Waves, at times Katie Mitchell is dangerously close to burying the play beneath the presentation. Many facets of this production would be almost as much at home as an installation in an art gallery as on stage.

Designer Vicki Mortimer offers a bare open set with a lot of gadgetry and eleven actors all dressed in black. As the evening develops, the story of "the girl next door", Anne/Anny/Anya (and other variations) is told using a great deal of clever but sometimes distracting video work developed live on stage.

This is accompanied by music primarily from the multi-talented Zubin Varla who breaks off from acting to play classical piano, rock guitar, drums and, at the end, violin, as well as singing. He is a prodigy who offers styles that vary from Sisters of Mercy to piano solos and livens up the staging immensely.

Martin Crimp's play takes an everywoman, Anne, and then plays riffs on the theme to show what life would be like for her in a variety of different countries, lifestyles and situations.

She is therefore a terrorist and a car, an advertising image and a porno star. Gradually through the two hours without interval, a picture of our existence builds using a series of snapshots. We benefit from Crimp's great sense of humour as well as his breadth of vision, since this helps him to reduce the tension when things get grim, which they often do. The comedy is at its best in a re-hash of those pretentious Late Review debates with Germaine Greer and Tom Paulin taken off hilariously.

This new version must be seen as an exciting avant garde experience, making the most of the resources that the National can provide, even for the £10 season. It has a cast three times larger than the original and includes Sandra Voe who played then.

This feels like a completely different play and, in part, the narrative drive gets lost amongst all of the clever technical imagery that Miss Mitchell loves to provide. This looks beautiful in a minimalist way but is so close to Waves that at times, one expects to see Virginia Woolf merging from the shadows.

The good news is that Attempts finally gets the major staging that it deserves in the UK, where the playwright has not had the acclaim that comes to his like in Europe. He is helped by a solid ensemble cast switching in and out of unnamed roles, creating music and video. They do everything with the meticulous care that this director clearly demands.

Attempts on her Life is a seminal play that works on many levels. If you fancy a sometimes exhilarating, visceral experience that challenges perception and expectation, this will prove to be a tenner well-spent.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher