The vast Lyttelton stage is transformed into a television studio of sorts for Katie Mitchell's new production of Martin Crimp's Attempts On Her Life. Confusing at first, the necessity of the set becomes clearer when, in the show's second scene, a large screen descends, onto which, for the rest for the show, selections of the stage happenings are broadcast. It is an innovative move, but in a show with no plot and no recognisable characters, you can't afford not to be innovative. Matthew Amer attended the press night.
Crimp's play, written in 1997, examines the obsessions of the late 20th century through the constantly changing central character known as Anne, Annie, Anya… At times she is a porn star, a child murderer, an artist trying to kill herself, a character in a mobile phone advert and a car.
The ensemble cast of 11, strongly led by Zubin Varla and Claudie Blakely, play myriad roles throughout the production and also contribute to the direction. When they are not central to the current scene, they operate the cameras and lights on stage, creating the pictures seen on the screen.
Herein lays the art of the production. It would be easy to simply watch the screen, as this is where most of the key action is played out. Certainly to follow the sparse plot, there is a need to keep an eye on it. But in the action on stage the process of creating those images is laid bare, from two actors playing different facets of the same person to torches creating cars passing in the night. For a play about current obsessions, exposing televisual processes is no bad point of view to take. It also highlights the conventions we are so used to and the subtext we accept.
A car advert for the new Annie exposes the sentiment behind the images we consumers so readily lap up; the stereotypical police interrogation scene is undercut with talk of growing tomato plants and cycling in all weather; Newsnight Review, complete with fair approximations of Greer, Paulin and Kermode, gets a look in to discuss the suicidal art work; and from nowhere comes a wonderful Abba-esque performance of a song about Anne.
Away from the fun there are some truly harrowing tales, making uncomfortable viewing; a 'singles' holiday' host lonely in a world packed with strangers, a daughter turned terrorist, a woman with her child's remains in two bags. It is haunting stuff. em>MA