The Treatment at the Almeida TheatreCultureTheatre
How much is your story worth? Martin Crimp’s ice-cold The Treatment places this question front and centre, pushing the naïve Anne (a delicate, strange Aisling Loftus) into the path of studio execs Jennifer (a hyperverbal Indira Varma) and Andrew (the monstrously vacuous Julian Ovenden). As the tellers of Anne’s narrative increase – including a voyeuristic has-been writer (Ian Gelder) and a domineering actor (Gary Beadle) – she begins to crumble, the girl dragged further and further into a sick New York City.
The whole thing has a Bret Easton Ellis-vibe, sans the mountains of cocaine; Crimp’s world is similarly populated by vampires, where even the ostensible victims carry an inner darkness. The coolness of Crimp’s script is matched by the precision of Lyndsey Turner’s production. Here decay has been internalised, finding its way into airless offices, restaurants and apartments through morally diseased hosts. Giles Cadle’s set maintains this sense of superficial chicness, his white walls casting every scene inside a padded cell.
Turner also makes sure the great masticating jaws of the city feel ever present despite the play almost exclusively taking place in a series of bland interiors. This is New York as a stream of anonymous faces, constantly rushing past in the background, ready to swallow whole anyone who isn’t willing to succumb to its numerous unrealities.
Crimp’s most interesting idea lurks just below the surface of the satire. To escape her abusive husband (a truly menacing Matthew Needham) Anne must debase herself, allow wolves to tear apart and manipulate her life for “art”. There is an inchoate statement here about the kind of representation offered to the working classes, where fictions fetishise and commodify poverty or trauma. When we finally get a glimpse of the home shared by Anne and Simon – a grubby stage within a stage not allowed to touch the pristine environs of the previous scenes – Turner solidifies this view further. These people are nothing but playthings to the likes of Jennifer and Andrew, making the contrivance of Anne’s ultimate erasure fitting.
This all makes the play sound very heavy; it’s not. The Treatment is less black comedy than nasty funny, Crimp’s wit, and the excellent performances, wrenching laughs from a parade of cruelties. The macabre, almost spiritual joy of the ending, where a blinded writer engages a blind taxi driver in a quasi-Abbott and Costello routine, brings the point home. To survive in Crimp’s New York, you mustn’t see anything at all.
Photos: Marc Brenner
The Treatment is at the Almeida Theatre from 28th April until 10th June 2017 for further information or to book a visit here.