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FringeReview UK 2022

Not One of These People

Royal Court Theatre, a co-production with Caret blanche (Québec City) and Carrefour Internationale de theatre (Québec City)

Genre: Contemporary, Experimental, Installation Theatre, Mainstream Theatre, New Writing, Short Plays, Theatre

Venue: Royal Court Jerwood Downstairs


Low Down

Written by Martin Crimp and Directed and Designed by Guillaume Lévesque, Lighting Designer Caroline Ross, Sound Designer/Sound Engineer, Technical/Video Designer Gabriel Fillatreault, Dramaturg Andréane Roy, Assistant Designer Julie Lévesque, Assistant Director/Production Manager Véronic Marticotte, Production Consultant Anne McDougall

Royal Court Production:, Stage Supervisor T J Chappell-Meade, Lighting Supervisor Max Cherry, Sound Supervosor David McSweeney, Lighting, Programmer Stephen Settle, Company Manager Mica Taylor, Costume Supervisor Lucy Walshaw

Till November 5th


A darkened Royal Court Downstairs: a single male voice inhabits 299 voices, some a few words, others several paragraphs, over one-hour-thirty-five. To each a vast photographed face on a screen synchs with the statement. But these faces don’t exist any more than they make such comments. They’re generated by Deep-Fake technology. Directed and designed by Guillaume Lévesque, Martin Crimp’s Not One of These People arrives at the Court for four performances after an initial run – in French – in Quebec. 

As sketches for attempts on a dramatist’s life it’s as if we’re living rent-free in Crimp’s imagination. There’s even a study; more on that later. It’s a self-reflexive gesture though, Crimp using his technique to show how his technique might be deconstructed, critiqued, and more widely, just what playwriting is. Where the bodies fail to be buried.

One of those conversations. Had Crimp realised his work around a year after he and artistic director Vicky Featherstone discussed it in early 2020, there might have been an ideal space for it as a grand finale to the Court’s Living Newspaper series.

As it is, Crimp’s response to young dramatists and anxieties over appropriation – who they felt they had permission to dramatize – still fascinates. Lucy Kirkwood’s admonition to beware male appropriation of female characters, given agency by women actors, is tacitly answered in Crimp’s exposing the whole process: by twisting his own aesthetic, attempts on the same story from oblique angles. And in lockdown re-reading the Decameron he notes, ‘falling back in love with its robust storytelling’. But this is Crimp. His questions of what storytelling is have shifted over the years, partly one feels as a result of his opera libretti for George Benjamin.

A filmed version could still make a wider impact. A piece of meta-theatre – where Crimp himself walks on halfway through, revealed as the voice behind the AI-generated faces on a screen, reads for 40 minutes next to a large camera then walks off again – it’s a hallucinating series of avatars.

That’s even before the end where Crimps maps his expressions on spookily animated faces that morph into others. In those last moments images shift halfway through a statement, open their eyes, as if the machine judders and stops.  By then Crimp’s reappeared through the transparent screen, revealing a study where he reads, writes, walks about to Schubert’s Piano Trio in B flat. Privileged auteur. Crimp with an accent.

There’s repeat themes that might make you look for more. The very first figure talks of how he was fired, usually by anticipating it and inviting the thing he fears, with comic variations on these – a running gag. There’s much laughter – often shocked – as wilder versions or sides of the same story emerge. Murder, several kinds of sex, incest, love, doubt, religion, identity certainly manage to wake anyone who finds the hallucinated automata before them repetitive. In effect a mini-inquisition of Crimps’ celebrated 1997 Attempts On Her Life.

It is repetitive, since Not One of These People only develops in four phases: intro and voice-over when we’re fresh to it, the spectacle of Crimp reading, his disappearance and final images shapeshifting, as he reappears through the gauze.

Originally intended as 1,000 not 299 statements, one wonders how Crimp could possibly have realised that. Resorted to more radical solutions? Perhaps, even in this brief show, something theatrically interventionist might have broken the procession. It’s reading a 21st century Decameron by lightning, 299 times.

It’s worth being struck that often. This is the most original piece of theatre-making, or anti-theatre, I’ve seen for a long time. Worth 95 minutes of anyone’s time, you come out heavier with the weight of where you’ve been.