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Attempts on her Life
Author: Martin Crimp
Director: Dave Barton
Choreography: Sandra Mifsud
Cast: Antonella Mifsoode, Mariele Zammit, Marie Keiser-Nielsen, Ruth Borg, Bettina Paris, Larissa Bonaci, Lizzie Eldridge, Timmy Paris, Philip Leone-Ganado, Vladislav Ilich
Musician: Mathias Mallia
Venue: St James Cavalier
Dates: 30, 31 October, 1, 5, 6, 7, 8, 12, 13, 14 November 2015
Summary: 17 scenarios for the theatre by Martin Crimp.
Attempts to describe her?
Attempts to destroy her?
Or attempts to destroy herself?
Is Anne the object of violence?
Or its terrifying practitioner?
Martin Crimp's 17 scenarios for the theatre, shocking and hilarious by turn, are a rollercoaster of late 20th-century obsessions.
From pornography and ethnic violence, to terrorism and unprotected sex, its strange array of nameless characters attempt to invent the perfect story to encapsulate our time.
What the Papers said:
Insite’s Jessica Arena reviews Unifaun Theatre’s new production, Attempts On Her Life , and feels that she got more than what she bargained for…
One of the drawbacks of being an insufferable know it all is that I am rarely ever surprised by anything. Be it in print, film, or, production, the need to consume critically overpowers me, I am the antithesis of the casual watcher, and hardly have I ever sat and enjoyed something without previously having done a few hours of intensive googling on the material. With that in mind, when I walked out of ‘Attempts On Her Life’, produced by Unifaun Theatre, I have never felt so wholly unprepared for what I had just experienced.
In all frankness, it's hard to group your thoughts on a play that seems to have no fixed end or start point, and views cohesion as something of a passing fancy rather than a necessity. What you can glean from it that it’s subject is a woman named Anne … and not much else that you can be certain is truth from then on. As the characters on stage try to piece together an identity, be it from fact, fiction, experience or expectation, your perspective as a third person is blown so wide open that your vision can’t help but narrow itself down. Who, what, or why Anne is, seems to be what the players are trying to piece together, but the fragments they produce wilfully do not stick together, like trying to build an observatory from the remains of broken windows.
The subject of Anne is an enigma wrapped in a mystery. Every scene, is an attempt to understand, to rationalize something that is actively trying to become intangible. You are tasked with trying to get to know someone through the interpretation of other characters, all accounts ranging, describing her from everything to a naive lover, a directionless artist, a devout wife and mother, to the purveyor of unspeakable violence. There is a sinister curiosity about the tone of the scenes, flitting between trying to construct Anne as a person or a concept, all results seem to point that the ending must always be violent or tragic. While holding on to Anne as a person as told by those who claim to know her seems a futile interpretation from which to follow the performance, thinking of Anne as a concept allows for a more seamless transition between one scene and another, thinking of Anne as an echo of identity, a shard of personality, Anne as an attempt to piece together a life with a bombardment of information and possibilities.
What makes the performance work, hands down, is the sheer intensity of the physicality of the actors and their space. The actors are statuesque, every move calculated perfect and poised, that at every standstill you cannot help but marvel at how living bone and flesh can achieve a timeless, shining beauty, as though they had been carved out of marble. My resounding praise goes out equally to Lizzie Eldridge, Anonella Mifsoode, Bettina Paris, Ruth Borg, Mariele Zammit, Marie Keiser-Nielsen, Larissa Bonaci, Vladislav Ilich, Philip Leone-Ganado, and Timmy Paris, whose energy was constant through each pace of the play. With certainty i can say that no one outshone the other, as the very nature of the play itself required their presence to be in harmony without fault, and they delivered to the stars and beyond. Its not as common to see physical theatre staged locally, and so rarely do we find performances with accuracy and nuance such as this. There was a dedication here to bring something to life where words are convoluted and mistrustful, and where the physical performance must step in to bring clarity. With exquisite choreography, the strength of the performance is definitely to be found in the intricate and precise movement of its actors, who fit together as neatly as vertebrae on a spine.
Overall, the metafictional quality of the play is appetizing, and while confounding at first, is one that inspires lingering thought, and a clear thirst for more. Attempts On Her Life is a unique addition to the local theatre scene and one that anyone with an appreciation for the vast unknowable would be sure not to miss.
How do you catch a cloud and manage to pin it down?
Unifaun examines fragments of the multitudinous lives a woman can have
Breaking away from the conventional plot and story in theatre has been done since the dawn of the postmodern age and now that we’re heading towards the post-digital and the post-human age, everything seems to have been attempted already.
However, the beauty of Martin Crimp’s 1997 play, Attempts on Her Life, written almost 20 years ago, lies in its versatility and adaptability which keep it fresh, current and valid in any period. Written in a narrative manner which does not specify characters or quantify how many are required, this piece is driven on the strength of its individual segments – 17 short scenes which at times require direct audience address, at other times take the form of a monologue and in others appear to be conversational tableaux with a dyad involving two or multiple characters.
Unifaun’s ongoing production of Attempts on Her Life at St James Cavalier is under the excellent direction of Dave Barton, and examines the different permutations of a woman’s life through the lens of minimalist techniques blended with physical theatre, technology and harnessing the cast’s most crucial raw resources: voice and movement.
The segments all attempt to pin down and explain different aspects of a woman – at times called Anna, Anne, Anushka, Anny, Ana – in various guises, situations, personal difficulties and phases in life.
This female figure becomes representative of what it means to be a woman and how she is viewed by others. At times a young girl next door, at others an artist, a make of car, a porn star, a model, a daughter, a mother, a confused old woman fleeing conflict, Anna is moulded and reshaped by the cast’s attempts at making her life comprehensible to the audience, while also having attempts made on her life – in a very clear implication of an attack, not necessarily to her physical state but to herself as an individual and a woman.
Anna is not, however, a symbol of the feminist agenda, but a symbol of individualism and the strengths and vulnerabilities of a feminine entity who combines her womanhood with her humanity in a whole which is greater than the sum of her parts. And therein lies her beauty and power.
With a simple set design by Romualdo Moretti and Chris Gatt’s effective and often striking lighting design, director Dave Barton’s vision for this piece was strong and extremely well executed by the cast. Their movements, thanks to Sandra Mifsud’s choreography, were slick and so accurately timed that it seemed like second nature as they went through their paces. The only element I found rather distracting was the constant projection of images on the raised screens in the first segment All Messages Deleted, featuring a monologue by Marie Keiser Neilsen – where the character and concept of Anna was introduced. Neilsen gave a poised and strong address to the audience which paved the way for the second introductory segment.
Tragedy of Love and Ideology postulated Anna’s motivations and possible interests: love, career, location, education, character and so forth, in a tripartite discussion between Lizzie Eldridge, Timmy Paris and Mariele Zammit. In a fast-paced but well-modulated piece, these three actors gave us multiple dimensions of being for Anna.
The whole company had several pieces which showcased their technical expertise and visual appeal, with The Camera Loves You describing Anna as a model, while later Porno envisaged her as an adult film star.
The Threat of International Terrorism and Previously Frozen respectively explored Anna’s fears and discussed the crystallisation of her feminine entity going through cycles.
Of all the company pieces, Particle Physics, which consisted of a dance in the dark set to the light of colour-changing spheres, was graceful and verging on the edge of faerie.
Among the scenes which were more visually effective, was Mum and Dad, which saw Vladislav Ilich, Eldridge, Neilsen, Bettina Paris and Zammit imagining a dual situation where Anna is a wife, mother and daughter. Ilich’s deep, rich voice gave the piece itsgravitas, along with the beautiful red backlighting. The parent figures holding up umbrellas were an example of a lifestyle which many could identify with.
Ilich and Bettina Paris sold the audience The New Annie – a sleek and sexy car model; while the eloquent Larissa Bonaci earnestly recounted Anny’s story as a confused old woman fleeing civil conflict in her war-torn country while worrying about her absent daughter in Kinda Funny and again with Antonella Mifsoode in Strangely!
Anna became a celebrated artist in Untitled (100 Words), where the company merged and melded into various art installations in which Ruth Borg and Timmy Paris aped art critics/aficionados who walked around spewing pseudo-intellectual interpretations of Anna’s work.
Borg’s and Timmy Paris’s portrayals were incredibly convincing and entertaining because they truthfully sent up the intellectualisation of art. In The Statement, it was not only Borg and Ilich whose interpretation was strong; so was Philip Leone-Ganado’s role in this tripartite look at Anna’s agenda.
Finally, The Girl Next Door saw Mathias Mallia as a guitarist accompanying several members of the company showing Anna as a girl everybody knows – and who the audience could identify with.
The beauty of Attempts on Her Life is precisely that it is an attempt at understanding on the audience’s part as well as explanation on the cast’s part; making it an excellent piece of minimalist, experimental theatre which challenges and teaches while being highly entertaining.
-Andre Delicata, The Times of Malta, 11/11/15
Unifaun Productions have now been pushing the envelope for a number of years and their first production for this theatre season follows the same artistic intentions. The choice of staging Martin Crimp’s piece, which is more of a prose-poem for theatre in 17, disconnected scenarios, rather than a play per se, is another bold step for this exciting theatre company. Not only is linear narrative completely absent from the piece, but the playwright does not lay any specific characters or stage directions. This means that the director has carte blanche, not only in the staging of the piece, but also in the casting and assignment of the verses to the different actors.
Producer Adrian Buckle has made a wise choice by trusting the direction of this particularly tricky piece to David Barton. Barton has a strong track record directing experimental theatre works and he has managed to do justice to Crimp’s piece which, penned in 1997, is already widely considered a post-modern classic.
Barton made maximum use of the limited space afforded by the stage at St James Cavalier. He also chose to give the piece a strong dose of physicality to bring the various scenes to life. In this, he was ably assisted by Sandra Mifsud, who expertly choreographed the actors’ movements to a tee. Barton also chose to use three monitors that constantly flashed stills/video images to complement the action on stage and make the production more visual. Although I found the images interesting, I felt that the size of the monitors was too small to achieve the intended visual effect.
The writing deliberately eschews the need for a coherent meaning. It is a series of loosely-connected scenes based on an enigmatic female character that defies description. Over the course of the play Anne never appears; instead, various figures discuss her life. Even her name changes from scene to scene, she is sometimes referred to as Anne, sometimes as Anna, Anya and even Annushka. At one point, she is described as an urban terrorist, then a tourist hostess, then a porno movie star, then an artist whose artworks are her various suicide attempts. At one point she even becomes a car, the Anny. Through these transformations, her character seemed to me, however, to embody the myriad aspects of femininity in all its wondrous and enigmatic forms.
The cast of 10 actors worked tirelessly to bring this difficult piece to life. Barton expertly harnessed their individual and ensemble skills and the result was on the whole very successful. Special mention must go out to Larissa Bonaci for her excellent vocal technique; Marie Keiser-Nielesen for her strong physical movement; Ruth Borg and Timmy Paris for their hilarious, art-critic pastiche, Lizzie Eldridge for her strong performance in Mum and Dad, Bettina Paris; Miriele Zammit for their hilarious balcony scene; Antonella Mifsud for her part in Porno; Philip Leone Ganado for his excellent timing throughout; and Vladislav Ilich for his wonderfully ironic car salesman pitch. The international casting, as well as the use of different languages, gave the production a very strong universal and timeless quality that complemented the way Anne’s story traverses the globe.
Unifaun Theatre Productions have once again proved to be the main purveyors of cutting-edge theatre in Malta. Buckle not only manages to source boundary-breaking scripts, but also ensures high quality productions to boot. They deserve our full support.
-Jes Camilleri, The Sunday Times, 22/11/15
photos: Christine Joan Muscat Azzopardi