Attempts on Her Life: Brave, bold, modern, challenging, creative

Reviewed by Rajka Stefanovska

“Attempts on Her Life” is written by postmodern British playwright Martin Crimp, but has been entirely interpreted by Peter James Haworth, which is probably the only regularity in a highly irregular play. I say ‘regularity’ only because that is exactly the way Crimp works. Narrative is not his focus, therefore his dialogues are meaningless. The stage resembles madhouse whose residents are lost in nothingness. Reality disappears, lucid identity is non-existent, and lives are lived in a virtual world shaped by media.   

The story – if one can talk about a story at all – revolves around Anne, the only character in the play. That is, if we can talk about character at all. Anne is not on the stage. She might be already dead, still alive, in the neighbourhood, or somewhere very far. Everybody talks about her, trying to shape her, disagrees about who she is, but in spite of all of that, here she is. She occupies our minds, our thoughts and becoming more real than we are. Welcome to the modern world of advanced technology and consumerism wrapped up into a global capitalism. In seventeen apparently disconnected scenes, groups of people talk about her as a terrorist, a porno star, a tourist hostess, a daughter of grieving parents, a suicide artist and even as a car. Crimp does not express his opinion; he does not create atmosphere or protagonist and anti-protagonists. In his emotionally detached work, he leaves every possible interpretation to the director.

There is no point in trying to understand a deeper meaning of the story (because there is none). 

The whole burden of the performance is carried on the backs of the director and actors, so, let’s talk about that. What is the vision of Peter James Haworth? How does he interpret and put together incoherent pieces of the puzzle? Judging by what we saw, the challenge must have been demanding and rewarding. Although 105 minutes without break might be hard on the audience – the play might be chaotic, but it is extremely intellectual in its nature and demands full concentration – it is absolutely worth the time. Numerous dialogues, repetitive in approach and wording, are intertwined with some brilliant vignettes which give life to the chaos which initially appears to be created just for the chaos sake. 

Contrasting the reactions of participants in dialogues, Haworth creates an otherwise missing atmosphere and adds intensity. One of the most memorable moments is a scene where brilliant actor Brendon Ly talks in a low voice about Anne- a refugee. Contrasted by the yelling of two other actors on stage, Ly’s low voice resonates with immense power. His narrative creates a question in our minds – is it an extremely well done media projection or a bleak real world story? 
There we several instances of ingeniously created dialogues. One in a police station, where the puzzled face of a witness is contrasted by the cops’ strict but very pointless questions. Another example is where in the middle of an art critic’s rambling, a desperate voice of sanity almost screams with helpless annoyance, giving us a hope that maybe everybody is not lost to the influence of media.

A perfect element of ‘Attempts on Her Life’ in Peter James Haworth’ interpretation is the pacing. What is lacking in text, he compensates for through a perfect combination of bubbling and silence. Under his guidance, actors produced a high quality play. Facial expression, movement and body language, which are essential to this show, came together creatively and flawlessly.

All in all, this is an exciting moment of theatre in Ottawa – brave, bold, modern, challenging, creative. Well done!

Attempts on Her Life

Written by                Martin Crimp

Directed by              Peter James Haworth,

Production              Ottawa u – Faculty of Arts – Department of Theatre


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