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“The Treatment” – Almeida Theatre

May 17, 2017

(Seen at the afternoon performance on 13th May 2017).

In times of “fake news,” when reality and truth are two different things and, as Richard Littlejohn puts it “everybody is the star of their own movie,” this 1993 Martin Crimp play should feel more relevant than ever. Certainly the quality of both dialogue and the story he tells make the Almeida’s choice of revival entirely justifiable.

Sadly, I’m not so sure they can justify either Giles Cadle’s designs nor Lyndsey Turner’s direction. Whichever of them opted for chopping a play about cinema, that required a fast-flowing cinematic stating, into scenes with long (and, from the front row, exceptionally noisy) scene changes between needs to be on the wrong end of a solid silver fork (in joke).

Anne (Aisling Loftus), a somewhat simple young woman tells her story – in all senses of the word, perhaps, tantalizingly – to slick movie operators Andrew (Julian Ovenden) and wife Jennifer (Indira Varma). This revolting pair of artistic parasites who lack manners and morals as well as talent, instantly begin twisting everything. Actor friend John (Gary Beadle, beautifully balanced performance) and ex-receptionist punch-bag Nicky (impressive Ellora Torchia) reap the success.

Forgotten playwright Clifford (Ian Gelder, in an unforgiving role he makes instead unforgettable) pays the heaviest price for becoming ensnared, with Anne’s husband Simon (multi-faceted work from Matthew Needham) also ultimately a loser on all levels. A mention too for Almeida regular Hara Yannas as a long-suffering waitress and Ben Onwukwe’s Taxi Driver who has the heavy metaphor-lifting work to do, and does it very well. Also a cast from the Community Company, filling the stage as required.

For this is all metaphors. We are all driving blind to destinations that don’t exist. Our stories don’t always ring true and others will shape events to their own ends. The innocent suffer, there are accidents and exploitation, with moments of revenge worthy of Shakespeare – neatly mined to good effect by the author.

Unfortunately, with long breaks and clumsy changes of scene, much of the impact is lost. This is about lives crashing together, bits flying off and randomness. When it happens at the walking pace seen here, with time to ponder and indeed drift off the odd scene that isn’t immediately impactful, but has later bearing, the audience are left wondering what all the fuss is about.

Trust me, stay to the end, and it will hit just how good the writing and performances are. Sadly, though, this is very much a two star production of a four star play. Fingers crossed a small studio with less budget but an equally talented cast host the next revival – I’ll be there if I can. And that’s the truth.

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