Written by Martin Crimp. Directed by Lyndsey Turner
“Tis the time’s plague when madmen lead the blind.” – King Lear, Act 4, Scene 1
The Treatment at the Almeida looks and feels like the play I’ve been waiting to see my whole life. I’ve read a whole lot of Martin Crimp (although not this particular play) and his writing continues to illuminate new avenues of thought about culture, writing, authorship, and capitalism each time. Then combine that intelligent, buzzing language with an expertly lit, staged, and choreographed spectacle and the whole show takes on a new sense of urgency and agency. There’s running themes of taxis, travelling, bins, cities, sushi, and sex and I love it. The acting is slick but also quite purposely overt and self-consciously theatrical. Everything is seamless and so slick, I just want to relish every moment, but then it’s suddenly gone.
I think the reason I fell in love with the aesthetics of the show straight away was because Turner leads the audience to connect the images of each scene with references they know, or think they know. For me, that was my favourite films. She might have been referencing these in particular, or she might not have been. What she definitely is doing, is echoing the conscious referencing Crimp does in his writing.
The Japanese Restaurant
The framing of this scene from Kill Bill is reflective of the framing of Turner’s scenes in the Japanese restaurant in the show.
The apartment of a swanky and possibly sincere, but also very possibly lonely and sleazy and not sincere at all, man. It’s bathed in a purple glow, the block colours separating the room into thirds, cut in half by the white leather couch in the middle of the stage. I think it would smell the same as the hotel in Lost in Translation.
Turner’s use of framing encapsulates much of her vision for this show I think. The taxi scene in the first half is where she first begins to break out of the naturalistic staging we had before. We see into the front window of the taxi. The symmetry and the colour are like Wes Anderson
Anne’s appearance in Act Two: her red dress, pale skin, and red cropped hair make for a striking contrast with the green wash Lyndsey overlays. She looks like Kate Winslet in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
So the aesthetics are referential of films we know and love (or love to hate). The colour scheme jars and blends as a kind of palatable juxtaposition. Once I move past that, there’s Anne. A-n-n-e. She travels throughout Crimp’s works, reappearing most significantly in Attempts on Her Life. The character of Anne already feels like a reference in herself – she is already written, already assumed in other plays. I think every story that is told in The Treatment is significant: the three stages of corruption, the story of the artists, the story of the protesting, but I’m not sure. I certainly wasn’t sure when I was watching it and I’m even less sure now.
Then there’s New York – a city so famous and full of cliche it feels overdone before the play has even begun. A city that gives you a headache, always. I have a headache after the show. It seeps into you. New York is shown in the orange and the bins and the block colours. It all seems too obvious. What Crimp and Turner collaborate to do so well in this piece is acknowledge that referencing and then blow it apart.
Crimp writes one hundred different versions of the same story in one script. His writing is all about subjectivity and conflicting narratives and multiple perspectives and how all of that can give a million different angles on the same small situation. The Treatment feels like the epitome of that. It centres on telling Anne’s story, which then becomes Simon’s story, and then Andrew and Jennifer’s, and then Clifford’s, and then John’s, and finally Nicky’s as she becomes Anne. The whole show is just a fuckery of storytelling and lying and objectivity and perspectives (both in the set and in the writing). Not only does Anne’s story get mistold, but we are never sure which story is the real one, and so how do we know it’s ever mistold?
Then, we come back to the references. Another element of storytelling and of literature and art itself. Turner echoes Crimp’s referencing in her set, as I already said. Then you’ve got the textual references. The one that stands out most to me is the blinding (**doyagetit**) obvious, fucking in your face King Lear reference. Clifford has his eyes poked out with a fork – an act of revenge in a moment of Shakespearian drama. He wails on his knees, calling out into the dark. It’s almost too obvious. Then we get to the second act and there’s repetitions and suddenly we are in a subway station and Simon is repeating Anne back to her, referencing her words for his own use. Referencing is about the stories, and it’s about being conscious of the process of telling and twisting stories, which of course is what The Treatment is really all about.
But then it’s a question of who owns the story. Shakespeare? Crimp? Anne? Turner?
The box at the end felt more real than any of the other settings, and yet it was in this place that the stories were most confused. The narratives still crossed and contorted, even in the face of the reality of the situation. In this final moment of realism, the audience are given a cathartic release – finally we see the story we have heard about for the whole show. And yet, it doesn’t sit right, at least not for me anyway. Does this mean the story was true all along? Or is the story only true now because of how it has been told before?
And then the last scene – the most abstract of all of them – is a moment of sheer nothingness. It feels metaphorical but I can’t quite scrape through all the subjective lenses the audience are faced with to find it. It’s literally the blind leading the blind at the end.