It is over twenty years since Martin Crimp’s Attempts on Her Life was first performed at the Royal Court theatre in London. Mysterious and confusing, the text reflects on modern society and confronts controversial themes, such as terrorism and pornography, through the figure of Anne. Importantly, Crimp states at the beginning of the text that ‘this is a piece for a company of actors whose composition should reflect the composition of the world beyond the theatre’. Before this week’s opening of the King’s Player’s adaptation of the experimental piece of theatre, ROAR sat down with director, Sam Kan, and producer, Anoushka Chakrapani.
I wanted to start by asking what the play means to you? What is it about?
Sam: First of all, I feel like ‘about’ is a difficult question to ask because everyone is going to have their own takeaway from this play. I think what I like about the text is the confused nature of the play and I think that comes out through the lack of overall narrative, and no defined characters. But there is a sense of some continuity not just through the figure of Anne or Annie, but also in the repeated imagery and use of language. It almost dangles the idea of continuity and suggests you could place the scenes together and think Anne is the same in scene 2 and scene 15.
How have you approached the production? How did you decide to cast it? Have you grounded it in real life?
Sam: Weirdly what was important to me when I picked the play was that I am aware that King’s doesn’t have designated theatre spaces, and the drama societies are playing around with a few spaces that are available frequently enough. Tutu’s room,
which I worked last year, is quite confusing. The architecture doesn’t fully reveal itself, and it has this institutional aesthetic: disgustingly patterned carpets and neutral colours with the pop of yellow; blindingly white lights; and institutional apparatus like a projector and stacks of chairs. I thought that this play would work in the sense that there is confusion in the text of trying to find clarity. In lots of the scenes the speakers seem like they are trying to work something out or decide something.
Anoushka: Crimp talks about representing the world, and we have picked a diverse cast from different backgrounds who speak different languages, which we will incorporate into the play. Sam really thinks about the room the play will be placed in from the props to the costume, and having it fit into a particular environment.
Sam: I envisioned staging it in a sort of ambiguous, bureaucratic corporate setting, and then allowing that to give context to the weird writing. So, the confusion and the search for clarity maybe comes out in the same way that people working in media or as journalists, or in admin are often kind of bit confused. I guess it could almost read as a critique of this environment: too much bureaucracy you can get lost in it. So, in a long-winded way, casting it, I had a vague idea how I wanted to stage each scene.
Did you have difficulties working with your actors since they aren’t given a role? How did you work with them to bring the play to life?
Sam: Early on in the rehearsal process, I was playing around with the actors, and trying to get them to explore modes of interaction. For example, an exercise I got them to do was getting some clippings from the newspaper, and I got them to retell them with purpose. For example, someone had to announce an update on Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal as if they were talking to a few colleagues. I wanted to push them to understand using different words in different contexts. So, from that I wasn’t looking for them to create characters but create enhanced versions of themselves. My assistant director and I worked around our actor’s performance abilities, so slightly moulding our actors to the play.
Some of the themes are very controversial. How did you want to approach them? Were you trying to make big political statements?
Sam: I think, no. I didn’t want to make a political statement, partly because it was written over 20 years ago. What is being said is not necessarily irrelevant but has been said. There is a lot of talk about pornography, even the reference to this female object of Anne, and there are questions of objectification of women. I am not avoiding them, but I don’t want that to be what the text is about. I wanted to play out the confused sense of trying to grapple with an overload of information and so I have drawn more on that, so following less through with the political thought behind it. It is definitely there; you cannot avoid it. I can’t avoid a scene called porno with a woman saying that she is being photographed against her will and being humiliated. It is kind of a quick survey of topical things, but it doesn’t go into enough depth to give it enough gravity that it is saying anything about it.
Anoushka: I think you play more on mocking bureaucracy, than focusing on the political elements itself.
Sam: Which in itself is political, so it is very difficult to be apolitical. I hope it makes the audience quite self-reflexive of what life was like 20 years ago. Talking about things we are still talking about, and they are not resolved. I think that’s why there is benefit keeping it slightly in its time, and in ours so it is still ambigious.
Why should someone come and see this play?
Sam: First, I think you would enjoy it. One of my focuses is to ground it in a continuous setting and add a light touch. It is very funny, and the cast are fabulous. When I originally pitched the play to the society back in May, I referenced W1A and The Thick of It. It is very satirical, and I have talked a lot about these shows to the cast. Maybe they will reflect on society, and the politics within it. It is talking about the overload and hyperactivity of society. But also, in a playful and clumsy way.
Anoushka: I think it is such a unique play to be shown at the university. I don’t think King’s deals with many experimental pieces of theatre like Attempts on Her Life!