Kings Cross Theatre, July 20


Attempts on Her Life is the final show at Kings Cross Theatre. After seven years of serving up some of Sydney’s most adventurous drama, the host company, Bakehouse, is moving to new premises on Broadway. But what a way to kiss goodbye. Martin Crimp’s 1997 play, subtitled 17 Scenarios for the Theatre, remains a ground-breaking work, the Briton having dared, like Beckett, to reimagine what theatre can be.

Ebony Tucker. Photos: Clare Hawley.

Crimp’s play has a text, but no characters, so it’s entirely up to the director to choose the number of actors and distribute the lines among them. The point? It’s actually strangely akin to improvised music (even though there’s no improvisation), because process and outcome are indivisible. While many contemporary directors are obsessed with reinventing classics in the image of their own egos, Crimp gives them a more robust test of their imaginations, demanding they bring all their virtuosity to the table. Should they not solve the text’s myriad riddles, the results would have people trampling each other to reach the exits.

That was not the case here. Director (plus video and sound designer) Saro Lusty-Cavallari (for Montague Basement) has met Crimp’s challenge unflinchingly, using a young, all-female cast of five. He has made his production busy and mobile, and heightened the sense of our watching a process via multiple devices, including having a video camera in the dressing room before the show commences.

It is a production that delights in Crimp’s penchant for commentary on his own medium: of Anne being “not a real character, like you get in a book or on TV, but a lack of character, an absence“; of theatre’s “outmoded conventions of dialogue and so-called characters lumbering towards the embarrassing denouements”; while also asking, “Haven’t we seen all that in the so-called ‘radicalism’ of the sixties stroke seventies?”

Bridget Haberecht. Photos: Clare Hawley.

The play is ostensibly about Anne (also called Anya, Annie,  Anny and Annushka), who’s variously a girl, woman, lover, mother, traveller, terrorist and even a model of car, and who’s only spoken of in the third person, the actors continually interrupting, correcting or embellishing each other’s account of her. It’s about life, language and art, and the ways we perceive them, and it’s perhaps also about the potential for the mundane and the extraordinary implicit in us all. By turns it is serious, confronting, musical and satirical. It can also be wildly funny, as when Anne tells her parents that she wants to be a terrorist who shoots someone each week, and then returns to her room to drink Earl Grey tea. “Her poor mum and dad are horrified,” the text tells us. “They’ve never bought Earl Grey tea in their lives.”

As well as requiring limitless resourcefulness from the director, Crimp’s play is a considerable ask for the actors, and this is where Lusty-Cavallari’s production is partially found wanting. In the absence of characters there must a compelling sense of presence – of gripping in-the-flesh performances – or it could just as easily be a radio play. Although there’s no glaringly weak link among Ebony Tucker, Lucy Burke, Lucinda Howes or Josephine Lee, only Bridget Haberecht is consistently a lightning rod of the sort the dangerous electric current running through Crimp’s text demands. But the challenge is mighty, so the trust in each other must be complete, and this can only grow as the short season unfolds. It is already a commendable iteration of a major work.

Until July 30.