Tuesday, 15 October 2019

THEATRE REVIEW: Attempts On Her Life - HOME, Manchester

Manchester School of Theatre have very ambitiously tackled Martin Crimp’s fragmented classic “Attempts On Her Life”. This is quite a mature and technically tricky script for student actors, but both cast and creative team rose to the challenge, and tonight’s performance occurred on the main stage of HOME. Plainly Manchester School of Theatre is aiming high.

Seventeen scenes are set in a variety of modern locations, all of them centred around an absent protagonist called Anna. It is not one single Anna, but multiple Annas: in one scene Anna is not even a woman, but a car being plugged in an infomercial. The multiple Annas are discussed by the characters, and a transformation of perception occurs during each scene. In many cases the discussion is quite horrific and graphic: the various Annas suffer abuse, suicide, war, pornography and murder. Quite often though, the characters discussing what’s going on are pampered Westerners, detached from their subject matter, and when an absent Anna does cause a deep emotional connection with a character or two in the scene, it really does stand out.

Fourteen actors played approximately forty characters, and it is difficult to see from the programme who was performing who, so I cannot give names accurately. All the cast were very focused though, and with steel-like energy. Some of the stand-out performances included:

A Russian video director in a shadowy booth coolly giving directions to a young Russian mother reading aloud from a soft porn script. The male actor’s instruction for her to read it as if it was a bedtime story to her little daughter was low-key, and yet completely chilling. A pair of infomercial presenters selling a car on camera: the male presenter all smarm and charm, the female presenter warm and personable and translating her colleague’s dialogue into an African language; and as his description of what sort of customers the car was for became increasingly twisted and offensive, she became caught between her professionalism and her personal view of the matter. A roomful of American executives planning a film featuring a young woman and a cruel, but caring, older man. The female actor with the dark hair wearing a trouser suit, in particular, stole the scene with her crisp enthusiasm. A grieving middle-aged couple in cardigans, and a bright-smiled holiday rep in the background, working out what the daughter of the house really did do when on the job. A trio of art critics: the male actor pompous and tweedy, one female actor Teutonically haughty, and the other female actor brash and shouty, evaluating the artworks of their Anna and what they said about her many suicide attempts.

There were several songs, composed by Garion Frith, including what looked like a high school “Grease” tribute with some flourishes of ballet moves, and a boy band rap performance with a row of adoring female fans. These were also self-contained scenes within the performance.

Elizabeth Wright’s stone-coloured set was dominated by long rows of wide steps, with bits of old computers and clutter in the corners of the stage. Multi-media video projections opened up the space, such as a shopping centre for the three Essex girls and a Los Angeles freeway for the film executives. Aaron Dootson’s lighting design alternated between cold and shadowy and cold and bright, and during the Eastern European war scene there was some particularly effective work tying in his tubes of fluorescent light on the stage with Richard Walker’s naturalistic sound design of bombs and missiles. Tying it all together was the cool fusion of Seb Harcombe’s direction.

Reviewer - Thalia Terpsichore
on - 10/10/19

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