Aisling Loftus as Anne, image by Nadav Kander
The Treatment by Martin Crimp – Almeida Theatre, London N1
Martin Crimp’s The Treatment is due a major revival: it is, remarkably, 24 years since it premiered. Lyndsey Turner’s fascinating production for the Almeida is a chance to revisit not only the perennially under-rated Crimp, but also influential writing from an era that we are only just beginning to place in context. The design, by Giles Cadle, neatly updates the action to the mid-2000s, among aubergine/beige meeting rooms, pixel-art and turquoise rubber hi-fis.
Set in a heightened, hyper-real New York, The Treatment deals with the commodification of people: Anne (Aisling Loftus) telling the strange, story of her marriage to rapacious film ‘creatives’ Jennifer (Indira Varma) and Andrew (Julian Ovenden) and controlling talent John (Gary Beadle), or down and out writer Clifford (Ian Gelder) waiting thirty years for a chance, and being kicked back out on the streets again. Weirdness levels are set to stun, and the semi-connected episodes of urban alienation recall the early movie 90s zeitgeist of Jim Jarmusch’s Night on Earth. There are also hints of David Lynch throughout, but the strangeness and dislocation are not for effect – they are essential to the success of the play.
Chock full of ambiguity, many of the characters are both victims and oppressors, all the way to a gruesome, fork-based act of Shakespearean mutiliation. Matthew Needham’s Simon is both protector and abusive husband, and Ellora Torchia’s receptionist, Nicky, becomes the boss she hated. Only Ben Onwukwe’s mysterious blind taxi driver seems to float outside the exploitation, a semi-mythical figure providing transport to those in need, destination and arrival uncertain. The pitch-perfect cast makes the most of some remarkable roles, bringing us fully into a world that is familiar and strange.
The Treatment is clearly a play written in the 90s, but it has not dated. Its central theme – the thinness of the civilised facade in cities underpinned by poverty and exploitation, is entirely current, with the visible city only a fragment of the real city, extending far, far into the filth below. The only element that seems to belong to a different time is Crimp’s underlying belief in the possibilities of the city, that nothing and nobody is what they seem. In the harsher, comment-driven 21st century we see more of what is around us, and perhaps we expect less of it.