Friday, May 04, 2007

A Tale of Two Productions: Attempts on her Life

A Tale of Two Productions: Attempts on her Life

Less than 48 hours after Katya Kabanova I was in London, sat in the middle of the stalls of the Lyttelton at the National Theatre.

As the cast took their bows the woman next to me proclaimed with relief "Thank God, that's over".

Her companion looked across to her: "That's two hours of my life I'm never going to get back".

Attempts on her Life is certainly an odd play and Katie Mitchell's production is certainly an odd production. There is no real narrative, no characters in the traditional sense, this is not even theatre in the traditional sense (Mark Shenton suggests that it might even be "anti theatre" ). The actors who are not part of the action film those who are (with these actors often being deliberately obscured from the audience). The live images are projected on to a large screen and, if you are to follow, then there is a required amount of watching this screen rather than the actors on stage.

So I wasn't surprised to hear the reaction of the women to my right, or for that matter the slightly muted applause at the end.

But I did feel a strange mix of emotions. It overwhelmed me a little to think that we had been in the same theatre. Attempts is difficult. It doesn't always make sense. The techniques Mitchell and her actors use take some getting used to (and this is me, I like to eyeball an actor). But what happened in that theatre on Wednesday afternoon was something so incredibly special that I can hardly verbalise it. I suspect that this production is the most exciting and thrilling production I will see this year. It curled itself around me, it made me laugh, it made my brain twist and turn, it filled me with delight and, triumphantly, heartbreakingly, it made me cry. This was something so urgent, so visceral that I hardly wanted it to end.

Attempts is about how we construct, how we build a story, how we see people, how we define our age and ourselves. And, maybe ultimately, our inability to ever successfully do so. Maybe it's noticeable that Mitchell's last project for the National was an interpretation of Woolf's The Waves because I couldn't help but see the spectre of Woolf's writing in this play. Can the red dress, the red bag, the hair, the size of the window in our bedroom, say something about us, define who we are? Is our storytelling always doomed to ultimately end in absence rather than presence?

And, beyond this, what might it be to be a woman in this world of ours? A world crammed with flash cars, chocolate, pop songs, genocide, pornography, parties, perfect children, death, red dresses. Fifteen minutes in, if I could have broken myself away from the stage, I would have punched the air in joy. Because I cannot remember the last time I sat in a theatre and thought that these questions where being asked, not about a 19th century woman, but about us.

I honestly didn't expect to love the multi-media aspect of this production - and you have to be willing to put the work in for the first five/ ten minutes to get used to it - but I unashamedly did. And, perversely, this proved to be one of the most overtly theatrical productions I have seen in a while. It was joyous to see the disparity between the reality of what was on stage and the projected images. It embraced the fact that theatre audiences will, if you let them, use their imagination. You suggest where we are and we will go, in a way that no other live medium allows us to. And - listen up Opera North - there was possibly the most beautiful, overwhelming staging of a drowning I have ever seen - and all it took was a bucket of sand, a piece of cardboard being wafted and the sound of water. Delicious.

A couple of high points aside (notably Opera North's The Elixir of Love ) post seeing Stoppard's Rock 'n' Roll in January I hadn't really seen anything that had moved me enough to spend the rest of the week buzzing with it. Attempts achieved this and then some.

Undiluted, witty, challenging, theatrical magic. The only problem is that, like a drug, I want more.

1 comment:

Thomas said...

I am old enough to remember the original production at the royal court (yep thats how old I am)
Delighted you enjoyed, and look forward to a rant about it at some point.
Director Boy x