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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at the National Theatre (Lyttelton)

By Clive Hirschhorn

  Dina Korzun and Michael Gould/Photo: Alastair Muir

Life is too short to sacrifice a couple of hours in a theatre attempting to fathom the unfathomable. I'm talking about Katie Mitchell's revival of Martin Crimp's Attempts on her Life- "17 scenarios for the theatre", not one of which follows cohesively from one to the other or even bothers to make narrative sense.

When it was first seen at the Royal Court ten years ago, lovers of the obscure gave it the thumbs up for stretching the parameters of experimental theatre and appeared more than willing to give the author the benefit of the doubt when they described the play as a parable of the dangerous times in which we live.

A decade later, what was obscure in 1997, remains so in 2007, but Mitchell's fussy production of Crimp's D-I-Y conundrum now has the added burden of pretension.

Believing in the maxim that if at first you succeed, try again, Mitchell, who last year adopted a similiar approach to Virginia Woolf's Waves at the Cottesloe, fills the vast Lyttelton stage with the latest TV equipment in an attempt to ponder the imponderable.

In extreme close-ups projected onto screens dangling above the actors's heads, a fashionable, post-modern film nor atmosphere is attempted, but with diminishing returns. What worked so inventively and with such intriguing originality in Waves, here lets Mitchell down disastrously.

With its total lack of stage directions and without ever identifying which character is speaking at any given moment - the text clearly needs strong directorial guidance. If ever there was a director's play, this is it. But instead of finding light at the end of Crimp's meandering, obstacle-strewn tunnel, Mitchell's approach serves only to obfuscate and confuse.

The central character (never seen) is a woman called Anne (or Annie, or Anya or Anushka. She's even identified as a car called Anny). Is she the protagonist or the antagonist? Is she a terrorist or a pronographer? Is she involved in the tourist trade, or is she a performance artist whose subject is her own suicide attempts? Whatever or whoever she is, we kind of deduce that she's a victim of the violent, consumer-obsessed times in which we live.

A maddening moral ambiguity seeps miasma-like through the proceedings, enlivened only occasionally by an entertaining set-piece such as a Newsnight Review parody featuring TV pundits Germaine Greer and Tom Paulin.

And is it really necessary to prolong the agony by having most of the dialogue repeated twice? In trying to invest this self-indulgent exercise with a state-of-the art interpretation Katie Mitchell finishes up with something far, far less than meets the eye.

Well done, though, to the hard-working cast of eleven, all of whom are not only adept at operating sophisticated camera equipment, but who, despite their ill-defined roles, somehow manage to conevy a genuine sense of belief in what they're saying.


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