FringeReview UK 2017
Martin Crimp’s 1993 Hollywood-scouring The Treatment is revived at the Almeida by Lyndsey Turner. It’s designed around Giles Cadle’s grey metallic set with sliding panels to admit conference rooms, restaurant (three times) death-in-living spaces so clinically precise with Neil Austin’s lighting even the restaurant’s flowers spike up dead. Till June 10th.
Sashaying through its title’s puns the play’s set is the most hallucinatory reveal of all. The city itself is the hollow tube all these protagonists blow through. Martin Crimp’s 1993 Hollywood-scouring The Treatment is revived at the Almeida by Lyndsey Turner in a gleaming, deadly perfection. It’s designed around Giles Cadle’s grey metallic set with sliding panels to admit conference rooms, restaurant (three times) death-in-living spaces so clinically precise with Neil Austin’s lighting even the restaurant’s flowers spike up dead.
There’s a screen with cut-out window: a cab with a blind driver. A destitute once-renowned author sells heirlooms out of a suitcase on the sidewalk. Throughout, a community company parades fifteen characters behind the main action, in corridors, whistling the transience through. Some might feel they distract, but they earn their place by becoming backdrop, which is the point. In the penultimate scene though, something else emerges: it’s a set that story-boards.
Sitting in a New York film studio, Aisling Loftus’ Anne has chosen to have her experiences dramatized, to become a commodity of herself. She’s in flight. Indira Varma’s Jennifer and Andrew – a laid-back dangerous Julian Ovenden – will facilitate: Crimp’s deadly skewering of this inane word. This couple are so desiccated you can hear other lives blow through them to make noise, but are then them-shaped for consumption. Already Jennifer’s pushing Anne to say she was raped, assaulted by the man who ties her up at knifepoint. But he talks. In fact there’s a relationship. This isn’t right. How can you treat that? Varma’s silken voice rustles with interest, irritation, cajoling. Later it unleashes furies like a death-rattle.
Anne’s prey, but not without inflicting damage of her own. The couple decide Andrew will seduce Anne. Anne’s still resistant, ahs already run away. ‘You under-react because you have no feelings. You are emotionally dead’ Andrew though seduces Anne with the signature-tune: ‘Corruption, Anne, has three stations. The first is the loss of innocence. The second is the desire to inflict that loss on others. The third is the need to instil in others that same desire.’ ‘What station are we at?’ is Andrew’s cue but the outfall’s more devastating, more unexpected than one could imagine. Loftus is both subdued then suddenly briefly impassioned, though even her skewering Andrew is a helpless stab, and she ends stabbing the wrong person.
That forgotten author Clifford (urbane apparently benign Ian Gelder) finally parades his darker stories and gets taken up. Suddenly he suggest voyeurism adds ingredients to Anne’s story, himself voyeur, just at the point Andrew seduces Anne and Jennifer returns. It’s both women’s fury that sets the rest of the play, even if Anne’s is vented on characters as fragile as she. Lambasted by Jennifer Anne herself has learned cruelty.
Gary Beadle’s John the producer upends all plans, demanding complete changes. Suave, deadly, once intimate with Jennifer when they paraded human rights, he can cause firings in Andrew and Jennifer’s ultimately fragile world mid-conference. He leads th congratulatory noises though Andrew’s gone disturbingly AWOL. Desk-worker Nicky too, who reads all the scripts ascends with first an intellectual purchase then as film star. Ellora Torchia blossoms like a steel magnolia from factotum through star reader to star.
We’re subjected to an author dropped to his old life, astonishing Gloucester-like blinding, Andrew’s pseudo-fixation morphing to as real as his dead soul can attain, and a breakdown. Anne encounters her husband Simon (Mathew Needham) finding articulation though proving he’s a nightmare controller, and that recurrent blind taxi driver Ben Onwukwe, cheerfully blasé about his safety. One character at least experiences an unexpected redemption, kind of, relayed through a last cab journey. You sometimes get the feeling he’s Charon ferrying the dead. Hara Yannas as an inviolable waitress from Brooklyn dressed as a Japanese, and as a mad woman, portrays the only other character too low, too gnarled to be corruptible.
The climax is set almost out of a different scenario with completely different emotions. It’s a masterstroke. Ultimately it’s the way Anne’s airbrushed out of her own story but also out of her life before this concludes, disappearing because the story’s more real than Anne is, that carries such a deadly sting nearly a quarter of a century later.