Attempts on her Life at the Hampton Hill Theatre Studio

I never fail to be impressed by YAT’s choice of material and from where I’m sitting, this is their most challenging, daring and confrontational production yet.  In her production notes young director Lucy Hanneghan describes the play as theatrical “Marmite”, “you may love it, you may hate it, but either way you’ll definitely want to talk about it”.  So which camp do I fall into?  She was right in that there is certainly a lot to talk about and it is undoubtedly a strong and impassioned production, but a “love” or “hate” response is not so easily settled upon.

Martin Crimp’s play debuted at The Royal Court in 1997, to a mixed reaction.  “Is it even a play?” was a question readily up for debate among the critics, by both those who loved it and those on the other side of the Marmite debate.  Attempts on Her Life has no cast list, no stage directions, and conventional “acts” and “scenes” are substituted with seventeen short “scenarios”, each with their own titles.  Well, sixteen titled and one “Untitled”, to be exact, although you could reasonably argue that “Untitled” is a conscious title in itself.

The elusiveness of a title, of defining what is and is not there is the central theme that forms the invisible spine of the scenarios.  Crimp presents us with graphic imagery: genocide, violence, suicide, pornography, terrorism – the short warning on the back of the programme of “adult themes and content” is rather an understatement – but invites us to question, what are we really seeing?  What is outside our field of view?  What is shown and what is hidden from us?  The end of the twentieth century saw the eye of the media being scrutinised in a new way, and twenty years on in this age of “fake news” and the news feed “bubble”, a piece of theatre questioning its bias – whether you call it a play or not – couldn’t be more pertinent.

With no cast list, the play’s lines are free to be divided as the director sees fit among as many actors as they choose to cast, unrestricted by age or gender; a “director’s dream” Hanneghan calls it in her notes.  In the wrong hands, its lack of prescription could easily turn it into a directionless mess, a director’s nightmare.

Hanneghan however proves herself more than capable of handling this challenging and mature text.  As YAT are justifiably renowned for, the pace and energy never drop.  Set is minimal, a few pieces of furniture wrapped in crime scene tape, with physical theatre and quick costume changes to convey the revolving door of scene changes.  Each change is slick, everyone where they need to be when they need to be there and the pace, as a result, is relentless…

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Photo credit: Handwritten Photography


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