August 05, 2008

Attempts on Her Life


Attempts on Her Life
by Martin Crimp

State Theatre Company of South Australia
The Space, Adelaide Festival Centre.
August 5. Tickets $21.70 – $51.70.
Bookings BASS 131 246
Until August 23.

Pirandello’s famous experimental play was entitled Six Characters in Search of an Author. Perhaps State Theatre Company’s production of Martin Crimp’s Attempts on Her Life could be called Six Actors in Search of a Narrative. The play opens with a succession of recorded telephone messages, all left for someone named Anne or Annie – and we realize that, in one way or another, these messages prefigure what the playwright calls the “Seventeen Scenarios for the Theatre” that make up the drama.

These scenarios refer to the ubiquitous Anne as an abandoned daughter, a terrorist, a porno star, a member of an American survivalist group, a suicide, even a brand of car. She is the subject for seventeen types of ambiguity and, the aptly named, Mr Crimp has tightly pressed his information into short stretches of text which provide neither casting clues nor stage directions. If a page of dialogue can also be a blank one, these attempts on a life are a beguiling riddle of multiple meanings, cross-connections and suggestive fragments. Even the title doesn’t get us far – are those “attempts” a murder, a suicide, or a shot at biography ? As always, it goes all ways.

Director Geordie Brookman, his design crew and cast of actors have taken on the challenges of an indeterminate text with energy and brio and the result is inventive, thoughtful and even at times comic. Pip Runciman’s set is itself a work in progress with partly-renovated, unrendered walls smeared in blue undercoat, a huge fragment of a billboard photograph (is that a portrait of Annie?) and various other unexplained detritus while Andrew Howard’s music and sound creates fluidity as the text segues in unexpected directions.

But it is Geoff Cobham’s distinctive lighting, or lack of it, that contributes most to the production’s mood. Using limited spots and a whole variety of handheld torches, safety lights, tea candles, coloured dance club novelties and rolling red strip neon for the scenario titles, he and Brookman highlight the voices and shroud the mystery in chiaroscuro and pop noir.

The performances are distinctive and accomplished. Lizzy Falkland memorably tells the macabre story of Annushka. Promoting the Anny car, Jude Henshall’s ingratiating spruiker is reduced to robotic silent smiling, and Cameron Goodall bursts amusingly into song and guitar feedback for “The Camera Loves You”. But this production is very much an ensemble achievement – taking an intriguing, sometimes arbitrary text and turning attempts into notable successes.

Murray Bramwell

“Anne of the 17 inventive ways” The Australian, August 8, 2008, p.12.

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