Thursday, March 29, 2007

Theatre Review : Attempts on her Life by Martin Crimp - Lyttleton (dir Katie Mitchell 29/03/07)

A line of scriptwriters - or film executives - toss around the elements of a plot. A middle European city - a river - a cluster of angled rooftops - a balcony, high-windowed, Art Nouveau maybe, perhaps it is the Ringstrasse in Vienna. And a woman, Ann, beautiful, smoking, with her lover...They describe a mood as much as a film - black and white, grainy, intense. Maybe subtitled, almost certainly low-budget.

BRRR. Cameras are moved centre-stage, lights are shone and screens descend. The cast busily film and light and act the images that are being projected above, in real time - scenes from the life and death of Ann. But nothing is quite as it seems - the windblown hair is billowed by a sheet of card, the woman in the mirror is not a reflection but a lookalike and clever lighting.

And the lighting and camerawork is very clever considering it is being shot in real time, referencing freely. Peter Greenaway stripped bare, Kyslowsky's there too, and a brilliant Abba video. Meanwhile, Tom Paulin and the Newsnight review team (audience laugh of recognition) discuss pretentiously the significance of it all.

And the significance is...? Like the Abba video, the Anny car and the "porno", the film being made is empty and vacuous. For all its expressionist lighting and referentiality it is an empty shell with no coherence, no heart - a movie by committee, which is why Ann is a cipher.

The talking heads discuss who discuss their work at the end are not so idealistic, yet the image still triumphs over substance. As they postulate, the stage descends taking them away to join Don Giovanni in that circle of Hell reserved for those whose lives are without meaning.

The ensemble cast are uniformly good, the lighting and video design utterly breathtaking. "I didn't have a clue what it was about" said a voice overheard as I was leaving. But that is missing the point. The film wasn't about anything really, just a grainy - but stylish - collage of images. Peter Greenaway exposed.

But it had zip, humour, energy, ideas, despite being at the same time difficult and intense. Who said that Post-Modern theatre cannot be fun?

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