Tuesday, 2 May 2017
Review The Treatment
by Martin Crimp
City Lights - Camera, Action!
"Where do you get your ideas?" So the continual question goes for the successful writer by those admiring, envying, incredulous who somehow can't believe the simplest answer, "I made it up". A writers' strike, now warded off, has just threatened to shut down Hollywood storytelling but the hunger for new stories continues.
We move to New York for playwright Martin Crimp's 1993 satire The Treatment. A treatment can of course mean a brief written blueprint for a screenplay, the way we all treat each other - or it can have a medical connotation.
Anne (Aisling Loftus) has answered the ad of two producers or "facilitators" as they like to call themselves, Jennifer (Indira Varma) and Andrew (Julian Ovenden) looking for distinctive true life stories.
They buy up Anne whose story they want to pimp up to fit into, what they believe, is a fit story for the camera and the expectations of the target audience.
In the meantime, they meet elderly down-on-his-luck Clifford (Ian Gelder), who apparently had a couple of Broadway comedy hits back in the day and has a script in his bottom drawer that he is eager to sell.
It's the package they have been looking for - they splice together the two stories, introducing him to the big name star John (Gary Beadle), although Clifford in his excitement unwisely forgets to ask for the precise arrangement in writing,
The Treatment is a distinctly odd but searing snipped up tale of dysfunctional metropolitan people trying to put themselves in functional holes.
We're never quite sure whether Anne and her electrical technician husband Simon (Matthew Needham) are genuine or may be would-be screenwriters trying to find the elusive "idea" and believe it can only be found by living it out.
Are the rooms simply rooms or are they elaborate movie backdrops (design by Giles Cadle)? Are the people going by really just office workers, passers by, or are they actors and extras hired for the day? Or, more disturbingly, has the city become an unstable mixture of both with violence seeping from one to the other?
There's a lot of piquant, uneasy humour in director Lyndsey Turner's smooth widescreen staging with a pinpoint sharp performance by Varma as the producer cannibalizing Anne's life and Clifford's work. Ovenden is equally convincing as her husband and business partner who begins to doubt the separation between storytelling and life.
Loftus's Anne is the Alice-in-Wonderland character who tries to apply common sense and Beadle's movie actor sprinkles his superficial stardust and draws the wrong conclusions while generating success.
Considering the play first reached the light of day at the Royal Court 24 years ago, it has lasted remarkably well to feel just as relevant in a world where boxed set dramas are the new movie blockbusters.
And Martin Crimp even anticipated your own traffic road furniture reviewers within the play 😉 with a taxi driver who needs exact verbal descriptions of everything for a very particular reason. Oh, so you better tell the cab driver, it's a green traffic light from TLT and her co-producing automotive sidekick!