Martin Crimp’s The Treatment is so current that I struggle to believe it was written over twenty years ago. Set in New York, we follow the lives of individuals in a small group, who come together in bringing the next big feature film to fruition.
It is not the glamourous, idealistic painting of the Arts industry that most would consider. It is dark, sinister, and bleak; and we watch our ultimately dislikeable characters suffer, strive, and cheat their way into a successful production.
Anne, a vulnerable and delicate young woman, sells her unusual story to a top-end production company. She has recently ‘escaped’ from a husband who would tie her to a chair before placing tape over her mouth, but now she is ready to share her story. Inside a cold and corporate office, a team of top industry executives begin to manipulate Anne and her words in order to create the perfect ‘real life’ movie.
Julian Ovenden and Indira Varma play flawed power couple Andrew and Jennifer who, as head of this corporate production team, are the main manipulators who turn Anne’s story into a sellable commodity. Both performances are commanding, detailed and unpredictable. They are cruelly calculating yet oddly vulnerable at the same time.
Anne is played by Aisling Loftus, who is delicate and powerfully understated; it is the perfect casting by Julia Horan. Loftus is able to convey the tragedy of a character many outside eyes might envy, her fragile mystique reminded me vividly of Marylyn Monroe. Ian Gelder is John, the potential writer of the upcoming production; and Gary Beadle the famous actor who has come on board to boost investment and funding. Gelder and Beadle are incredible, experienced actors who bring complete spontaneity to their performances. The enormous cast of over thirty actors are superb and bring this piece to life in an almost film-like manner.
The direction by Lyndsey Turner is fascinating. The production does feel, in style, somewhere between theatre and film in its staging and design. Seamlessly dynamic, fast-paced, and brutal, the production is a masterpiece of directorial ability. The direction is aided by an exquisitely designed set, by Giles Cadle, that dramatically alters effortlessly from scene to scene. This vastly assists our suspension of disbelief and again adds to the overall filmic quality of the production.
The Treatment is one of the most fascinating plays I have ever seen. It borders on genius in the way is seems almost to question and critique its own existence. Ironically it even mocks the very practise of theatre, stating: “I will not pay good money to be told the world is a heap of shit”.
As a nervous ripple of laughter runs through the audience I cannot help contemplating whether we are here to critique the play or if it’s very purpose is to critique us. With hauntingly accurate observations of society and a writing style so instinctive and shrewd, it is one of the most ingeniously coined pieces of theatre I have ever seen.
The Treatment is playing at the Almeida Theare until 10 June.
Photo by Marc Brenner.