The Treatment at the Almeida Theatre review ***


The Treatment

Almeida Theatre, 24th May 2017

I didn’t really get on with this. The premise is interesting, the acting was accomplished (all the leads were new to me) and there were ideas to ponder upon, but I just didn’t find it that involving, either emotionally or intellectually.

I had wanted to see a work by writer Martin Crimp. I had previously only encountered his work through the libretto for George Benjamin’s haunting contemporary opera Written on Skin. So with an Almeida production directed by Lyndsey Turner (Chimerica, Faith Healer, Tipping the Velvet, Hamlet, Posh, Light Shining in Buckinghamshire – all fine productions that I have seen and that she has directed in recent years), and heartened by positive reviews, I had hoped to find a new favourite.

The plot focusses on how Anne’s (Aisling Loftus) story of her odd relationship with husband Simon (Matthew Needham) is appropriated by husband and wife “facilitators” Andrew (Julian Ovenden) and Jennifer (Indira Varma who for me stood out – a character that appears to speak first and then not really think too much afterwards). This is then turned into a film with the help of has-been writer Clifford (Ian Gelder), star actor John (Gary Beadle) and assistant turned starlet Nicky (Ellora Torchia). From this is spun a meditation on the fractured nature of modern urban (specifically New York) existence, the relationship between art and life, the restless superficiality of modern culture and the perversion of attraction.

Mr Crimp is a favourite of the Continental European stage and a go-to translator and the tone of this work shows why. It is mostly naturalistic (with a few curveballs to keep us on our toes – a blind cabbie for example, mirrored by a Gloucesterian eye gouging). For me it evokedĀ thatĀ flat, clipped, precise almost vapid style beloved of novelists who worship at the altar of Brett Easton Ellis. Nothing wrong with that but I am not sure I go along with the idea that this play was somehow ahead of its time. For me it was very much of its time, despite I assume some deft updating (exhibit A – the smartphone – the gift that keeps on giving to the social commentator bereft of a commentary).

I normally find myself able to recognise what critics, programme writers and all the creatives say that they can see in terms of ideas, sub-texts and the like, but here I was a little off the pace I think.The satire of how the big bucks movie world takes a “real life” voyeuristic story and then twists it beyond recognition to make it more “real” unerringly hits the target and the delusions of the creatives in this tale are well observed. As a more profound enquiry into the alienation and neuroses which bedevil Western urban existence, I would be more circumspect. In its different way something like Scorsese’s Taxi Driver makes a better fist of nailing these themes I think, though again it is firmly locked in its time.

To be clear I didn’t mentally drift off (a happily rare but sure sign that the play is not for me) nor would I put anyone off who wants to take this in. It was just that it felt a little less than the sum of its parts. Not a no, not a yes, but a maybe.