Attempts on Her Life, BAC, London

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Anne Tipton is the winner of this year's prestigious James Menzies-Kitchin Memorial Trust award, the only prize that gives a young director of marked promise the money to mount a full-scale professional production. She has chosen to stage Martin Crimp's 1997 play Attempts on Her Life, and no one can accuse her of going for the soft option.

A riddling, relentlessly self-reflexive anti-play, this work delegates a huge amount of responsibility to the director. In the text, there are no named characters or any indication of how to assign the speeches. The stage directions are minimal, and the visual imagery is left entirely to the creative team. It's good to report that Tipton, her designer, Naomi Dawson, and an engaging, versatile cast rise to the challenge with an admirably sharp production that shows a sure instinct for the cryptic, pitch-black comedy of the piece.

Plunging into a world of dizzyingly soulless postmodernism, Attempts on Her Life unfolds as "17 scenarios for theatre", in which nameless figures bombard us with conflicting information about an unseen character (or should that be "unseen characters"?) called Anne. Is she an international terrorist or the object of violence? Is she a porn star or a disturbed artist who exhibits video recordings of her own suicide attempts as artworks? Sometimes, Anne is talked about as though she is a fictional figure, the heroine of a prospective movie whose storyline is still being brainstormed. In one very funny vignette, she even turns into a new brand of car, the Anny, a vehicle that comes with ambitious guarantees.

Tim Albery's Royal Court premiere of the play was an impeccably hi-tech affair. Tipton's budget doesn't run to many luxuries but her production - staged in a wide, shallow box of a set, with sinister lighting - has beautifully orchestrated work from a cast who fall with relish on the cunning rhetorical ventriloquism in Crimp's text. They bring just the right degree of teasing complicity to scenes that include a Cole Porteresque cabaret number about Anne ("She's the film in the can/ She's the shit in the fan") and a spoof Late Review-type discussion of her suicide art, in which Martin Ritchie does a very funny impersonation of Tom Paulin in vociferously indignant mode.

One of the affected critics declares that the pointlessness of searching for a point in the "attempts on her life" is surely the point. Would one have to resort to such strained reasoning to validate Attempts on Her Life? The play characteristically invites that question, while convincing us that the shifting nature of "Anne" is a brilliant device for dramatising the depersonalised incoherence and the enthralling consumerism of contemporary life. The production bemused and beguiled a packed house in which I seemed to be the only person over 22. Recommended.

To 15 August (020-7223 2223)