Lacks Character: Review of SUDS and Periscope’s Attempts on Her Life
Straight up, it needs to be said that we are great fans of SUDS. They have high production values and put on some of the best student theatre. They are a society that isn’t afraid to push the envelope. The risk though, is that sometimes when you do push it, you don’t always hit the mark. This is one of those occasions. Simply put, Martin Crimp’s 1997 play Attempts on Her Life would have to be one of the most frustrating plays ever written.
Ten characters (a loose term as none of the actors really adopt a character) appear in 17 disjointed scenes, taking turns to describe an absent figure, Anne. They imagine scenes from her life and examine her persona. Yet each actor has a different opinion as to who Anne is, and her personality varies wildly until it seems that she could be almost anyone. Unfortunately, none of the tableaux ever really interconnect and the audience is left to vainly discern any sort of meaning (although there is a recurring theme of persecution, and race fuelled violence). The actors are detached from what they recount; they rarely feel emotion and when they do it is artificially manufactured, being so far removed from whatever story they are describing. Apparently this is a common feature of Crimp’s work.
The play is, for lack of a better term, very post-modern. It is self-aware and actively challenges the audience to re-conceive their concept of what a play is. Well, in all honesty, this isn’t it. The play is near incomprehensible. There is nothing at stake, as we are never allowed to get a grasp of who Anne is; again the post-modernist crisis ‘of being’ rears its head. In the end, the play performs like a group of narrators attempting to construct a character, but arguing over the details. The audience has no vested interest in this whatsoever, and in the end the question has to be asked, why should we care about anything that happens in this piece? (We don’t.)
For all this, the cast was exceptionally strong and they could hardly be faulted. Additionally, for the first time, SUDS can boast a collective work, produced and performed by Sydney University and Periscope Productions in Melbourne. Sydney’s performers consisted of Bridget Harberecht, Harriet Hope Streeter, Steffan Rizzi, Julia Robertson and Jack Scott. From Melbourne: Brittany Lewis, Brendan McDougall, Daniel Beratis, Felicia King and Leili Walker. The two troupes have had a week together, but they share the stage flawlessly. Their presence as an ensemble is overwhelming felt, and largely, a piece such as this could not have been performed to a higher standard. Each performer possessed marvellous vocal skill, and their depth of engagement complimented the process. Particular stand out performances came from Jack Scott, Julia Robertson, and Steffan Rizzi with some beautiful singing from Brittany Lewis. It should also be mentioned that production values were high and choreography was beautifully arranged. It is a credit to directors Clemence Williams and Benjamin Sheen that they have been able to stage a very professional and tight production.
Unfortunately, Attempts on Her Life is at best confusing, and at worst it is pretentious and smug. It flaunts its lack of theatricality in the audience’s face whilst proclaiming its superiority over traditional theatre. The result is 90 minutes of utter frustration. This is a shame, because it really must be stressed that it is difficult to imagine a more professional staging of this show, especially when the script doesn’t even mention how many actors are required. SUDS and Periscope Productions made a bold choice to stage this production, and they have done the best job possible, but unfortunately it has not paid off on this occasion.
Attempts on her life is playing until the 26th of April. For more information see: