Attempts on Her Life

Take a play with no plot, an unspecified number of players, no defined characters, pages of intense prose and lines that can be spoken by any performer and what do you have? Unmistakably, Martin Crimp's Attempts on Her Life. You also have the potential for a dramatic disaster or a theatrical triumph. In a creation of admirable sophistication Erasmus Productions has achieved the latter.

Delivery is the essence of success in Attempts on Her Life and in this the cast never falters.

With a cast of thirteen, it would be tiresome to go through each performance to highlight individuals in this ensemble production. Suffice to say there are no weak links. On the contrary, there is a uniformly remarkable standard of delivery, acting and character formation.

The opening tableau resembles a frame from a Chanel photo-shoot. As the lady said, ‘Black and white is always right,’ and it certainly succeeds here in the costumes that give cohesion to the group but a neutrality to the performers. Individuality is suggested by different styles of dress that are also evocative of social events. The black and white panels across the back of the stage complete the picture and in a nod to Katie Mitchell permit the projection of relevant images, video and text.

The series of vignettes that make up the work repeatedly refer to ‘Anne’ or ‘Annie’. She never appears and we have no idea who or what she is, other than being the subject a catalogue of incidents and speculation in various circumstances and locations. She becomes a figure of fascination; a mythical creation around whom much gossip centres. Yet, throughout, she is merely a vehicle for an exercise in extravagant vocabulary. Language is the dominant force this in play, although for one hilarious scene she becomes a vehicle herself. That car commercial is indicative of the play’s focus. The text is given in English but the playwright’s direction is for it to be spoken in any foreign language with a translator. Blessed with a Danish cast member, the scene is one of the most memorable.

Delivery is the essence of success in Attempts on Her Life and in this the cast never falters. Every word is enunciated and projected with relish. Quite simply, these actors know how to speak. They work their way through pages of adjectivally loaded sentences with dignity and aplomb. Accents and affectations are comfortably applied and sustained suggesting social class and the presence of an international ensemble. The flowing dialogue has pace and precise timing with interjections and overlapping sentences often heightening its urgency. Relevant music introduces scenes and in one becomes the backing to an amusing rhythmic setting of the text. All of this is moulded into a lyrical performance of accomplished acting.

In all the lightness of this work lurk dark messages and sinister thoughts. As if from nowhere, lines of humour and elegant description are abruptly juxtaposed with hideous images and vile abuse. As for what it all ultimately means, if anything, doesn’t really matter. Make of it what you will; interpret it how you like. This production of Attempts on Her Life is a work of wonder: intelligently inviting, fascinatingly fun and overwhelmingly enjoyable.

Reviews by Richard Beck

Drayton Arms Theatre

Two by Jim Cartwright

★★★★
St Giles-in-the-Fields

The End of History

★★
Rialto Theatre

Rope

★★★★
Sweet Dukebox

Woyzeck

★★★
The London Theatre

More Heat Than Light

★★★
Rose Playhouse

Will

★★★

Performances

Location

The Blurb

Erasmus Productions presents Martin Crimp's Attempts on Her Life, a play which initially bewildered some critics but is now revered for its innovative use of structural form. Shocking and hilarious by turn, it is a roller coaster of late twentieth century obsessions. From pornography and ethnic violence, to terrorism and unprotected sex, its strange array of nameless characters attempt to invent the perfect story to encapsulate our time. Reviews of Erasmus' 2015 run of Simon Stephens' Birdland include: 'spectacular', 'uniformly great performances', 'fascinating charisma and presence.' (BroadwayBaby.com).