Pros: Sophisticated and unusual storytelling
Cons: A lack of clear narrative intention
38 performers! That’s how many are credited in the programme for The Treatment. I counted them as I waited for the show to start, wondering would be presented with an all-singing, all-dancing chorus? No. But the imaginative use of this large cast is one thing that makes this otherwise rather indistinct play special.
Behind the main action of the play, which is mostly set in an office and a restaurant, we see a steady stream of people going about their business: diners arriving or leaving, office workers coming and going, even a lift’s doors opening and closing. We’d take such background activity for granted in film or television, but on stage it’s exceedingly rare (not least for economic reasons – 38 performers don’t come cheap). The effect of such an apparently simple device is to produce a remarkable tone of realism; the unusual ordinariness of the technique is bizarrely fascinating.
Against this interesting backdrop, the plot concerns Anne (Aisling Loftus) who we meet as she relates a story of domestic abuse to New York film producers Jennifer (Indira Varma) and Andrew (Julian Ovenden) who think they could be on to the basis of a successful film. They hire has-been writer Clifford (Ian Gelder) to produce a script.
In contrast to the background realism, the characters in Martin Crimp’s play (originally staged in 1993) appear to inhabit heightened worlds in which the extreme and the unusual go unremarked. This casual absurdism means that relationships, the film industry, success and happiness are presented as ideas rather than reality. It’s a stylistic technique which has a distancing effect and makes it difficult to gauge what the writer intends to say about the subjects he raises.
Andrew seduces Anne while philosophising cynically on what we actually mean when we speak of love. Clifford divides his life into six-month periods of idleness and productivity. Anne’s husband Simon (Matthew Needham) has trouble recognising his wife. A blind taxi driver (Ben Onwukwe) miraculously haunts the streets. I’m not sure what it’s all intended to convey, but for me it felt like a set of disconnected strands that never amounted to an involving narrative. Even a moment of Shakespearean violence is chuckled over soon after it occurs; the over-ripe tone of the piece undermines whatever meaning it’s striving for.
Within a fine cast, Matthew Needham stands out. He has a hypnotically imposing presence and a smouldering oddness that make his character by far the most interesting of those on display. An elegant set and brief bass-heavy interstitials help to keep the action moving, but in the end I had no idea where it was trying to get to.
Author: Martin Crimp
Director: Lyndsey Turner
Box Office: 020 7359 4404
Booking Link: https://almeida.co.uk/whats-on/the-treatment/22-apr-2017-27-apr-2017
Booking Until: 10 June 2017