Tag Archives: Martin Crimp

“The Treatment” at the Almeida Theatre

Martin Crimp’s 1993 play is an exploration of truth and lies that uses art like a prism. The key question is who ‘owns’ a story – is it the teller or all of us? It’s a structuralist trope that gives rise to vivid characters who enliven the play’s opaque moments. And it’s a lot more fun than it sounds.

The piece pivots on husband and wife “facilitators” in the movie business, depicted skilfully by Julian Ovenden and Indira Varma. This gloriously devilish duo is working on the eponymous treatment that will become a film. Unbelievable, yet recognisable, the couple and their project turn out to be extremely funny.

Ian Gelder
Ian Gelder

Their treatment is of the ‘real life’ tragic story of an odd woman called Anne, recruiting a struggling writer (the excellent Ian Gelder) along the way. Aisling Loftus produces a figure disturbed and disturbing in Anne, using the role’s cipher-like qualities to advantage. Anne’s would-be amanuensis falls victim to the Shakespearean pretentions he tries to force upon her story (“vile jelly”, anyone?) in a shockingly grisly scene. How could the film being worked on relate to true events this strange? Combine the smart satire around the New York pseuds with Anne’s fragile mental health and art doesn’t stand a chance.

Gary Beadle
Gary Beadle

The film’s progress has a quasi-magical impact on real lives. Scenes of the movie’s planning are interspersed with Anne and her estranged husband (played by Matthew Needham), giving us an alternative view. Similarly, the high-profile actor/producer brought on board – a charismatic role for Gary Beadle – manipulates Anne’s story further. Meanwhile, his claim that “art changes everything” is debunked by the unsettling elision of truth and fiction.

Supernumeraries from the Almeida’s community programme provide a large cast that adds a well-used note of realism. Lyndsey Turner’s sure-footed direction, with Giles Cadle’s stark staging and Neil Austin’s lighting, combines naturalism with the bizarre and exaggerated superbly. A description of the moviemakers’ luxurious world as “allergic” to reality is typically solipsistic. Everyone involved, including the audience, is struggling to get to the bottom of motivations. But there’s fun to be had working out what’s going on – this is entertaining avant-garde.

Until 10 June 2017


Photos by Marc Brenner

“Big and Small” at the Barbican

Among the many unmissable opportunities the Cultural Olympiad gives Londoners is the chance to see the renowned Sydney Theatre Company at the Barbican. Their star supporter, indeed Artistic Director, Cate Blanchett is performing, so no wonder its production of Big and Small is a hot ticket.

Don’t get too excited. Big and Small, originally Gross und Klein, is by the influential German playwright Botho Strauss and it is difficult stuff. It’s about, well, everything: big issues like society and the environment as well as how we experience the world epistemically. It’s difficult to describe without using big words – maybe it’s just about a woman who goes mad. In a series of disjointed, distinctly odd, scenes we see our heroine Lotte deal with a “sick minded” world and face rejection from friends, flatmates, lovers and family. For Lotte there is “disaster everywhere”.

Naturally, all eyes are on Blanchett. Lotte is a daring role for an actress to take on: childlike in her naivety, she becomes a kind of prophet with a belief she is one of the “righteous”. She has to be both an enigma and an everywoman. Blanchett prowls around with lots of “heavy breathing shit” and manages to do so convincingly: if she can talk to God then why shouldn’t she do so dancing, wearing a sequined dress and a crash helmet. It is a sense of fun, and some remarkable comic timing, that allows Blanchett’s star appeal to illuminate this occasionally opaque play.

The production is impeccably directed by Benedict Andrews. And it looks great with Johannes Schütz’s slick minimal design lit superbly by Nick Schlieper. The brave ensemble is precise, bold and committed. Even if you can’t quite keep up with the crazy antics you are sure to be impressed. Martin Crimp’s English text feels swift and sure and makes the most of the humour in the piece, managing to defeat a lot of the pretentiousness.

Until 29 April 2012


Photo by Lisa Tomassetti

Written 18 April 2012 for The London Magazine