The Theatreguide.London Review
on Her Life
Katie Mitchell's production of Martin Crimp's 1997 play is doubly daunting - a particularly difficult and frequently obscure text filtered through the sensibility of a particularly inventive and experimental director and her company.
I really can't recommend it to the casual theatregoer, and even the more adventurous will find its two-hours-without-interval a pretty heavy (if occasionally brilliant) slog.
Crimp's text is a series of prose poems describing a mysterious woman from various angles, each section designed to be spoken as a monologue, dialogue or choric reading.
Each portrait of her differs, as if seen by someone who only knew her at one time or in one facet of her life, and part of the play's point is that the pieces can't be made to fit together. We are all made up of so many faces and phases that even a mosaic of the parts won't add up to a coherent whole.
(Thematically, the play has much in common with Thomas Pyncheon's early novel 'V' and structurally it resembles some of the plays of Peter Handke.)
So, is Anna (as we are variously told) a woman in love, an escapee from war atrocities, an advertising model, a teenage porn star, a terrorist, a serial suicide attempter, a member of an American right-wing militia, a performance artist, a wife and mother, the girl next door, or a tool of alien invaders?
You might have spotted that those pieces are not absolutely mutually exclusive, and she just might have been, at one time or another, all of them. Or some of them may be misinterpretations or projections of the observer's fantasies.
Or maybe Anna is just a name given to Everywoman, and these descriptions are of a cross section of different women as the millennium approached.
That's the fragmented, ever-shifting level on which the text operates. And director Katie Mitchell has deconstructed it further, using techniques that she and her company have developed in such recent National Theatre productions as Iphegenia, Dream Play and Waves (You may wish to click to our reviews of each).
In particular, she employs TV cameras that project images of the onstage actors onto a large screen in ways that multiply the Cubist or mosaic effect. Typically, shots that we can see are taken at different parts of the stage are blended into an artificial unity that mirrors the text's attempt to piece its jigsaw puzzle together.
Actor A may be seen in a close up or 3/4 shot while cutaways to his hands or feet are actually of Actor B elsewhere on stage. Actors C and D may be nowhere near each other when their separate shots appear as a face-to-face conversation onscreen.
There are some deliberate jokes in this. The section on Anna-as-performance-artist is played as a parody of TV's Newsnight Review, self-styled cultural commentators debating her merits in soundbites. And another sequence is turned into a parody of an ABBA music video.
Meanwhile, Anna seems to be represented by a particular red dress, but every time we encounter that dress it is on a different actress. And what has become a Katie Mitchell trademark, the sudden bursting into dance by the whole company, here takes the form of a country music line dance.
The cast includes several members of what is becoming a Katie Mitchell rep company, including Kate Duchene, Liz Kettle, Helena Lymbery and Jonah Russell; along with a half-dozen others.
They clearly find this way of addressing a text exciting, but as I've said in previous reviews of Mitchell's work, one wonders whether enough thought has been given to the audience's experience and not just the actors'.
Of all Mitchell's previous work at the NT, this most resembles Waves. But that was built on a much stronger text, that could stand up to the director's deconstruction and even be illuminated by it.
I fear that too many will find Attempts on Her Life a matter of obscurity compounded upon obscurity.
Return to Theatreguide.London home page.
Review - Attempts on Her Life - National 2007