Martin Crimp’s The Treatment is a scathing look at the cutthroat film industry in America, as a naive young woman is taken and swallowed whole by a group of vicious film producers as they chop and change her harrowing story to fit the needs of Hollywood.
Under Lyndsey Turner’s capable hand, what appears to initially be a couple’s therapy session quickly give way to something completely different. Indira Varma as Jennifer is endlessly entertaining to watch as one half of the producers, interjecting rudely and establishing control with her domineering tone of voice as she traipses around in black heels and commandeers the entire project. Her other half Andrew (Julian Ovenden) plays the good cop, and who himself appears to be coming undone with the lies and manipulation required to survive in the industry, and Ovenden takes audiences on a journey from a character with questionable loyalties to one that appears utterly defeated.
Aisling Loftus’ Anne delivers a slow burn of descent into madness, transforming from an innocent waif to a glamorous, Carey Mulligan-esque star as her life story becomes a rising star, before cruelly falling to pieces, worse than ever before. Matthew Needham as her husband Simon brings out the blue collar nature of his character, proud of his position and menacing in his mystery.
Ian Gelder’s ill-fated, washed-out writer Clifford rightfully grates on the nerves as he prattles on about his past (unknown) glories, while Gary Beadle’s turn as the over the top, larger than life actor/producer John is complicated in his position as a racial minority in power, seeking to exact both social justice and tell a compelling story as he wields his chokehold over the film. Finally, Ellora Torchia’s mousy assistant Nicky is granted her spotlight moment at last in the latter half of the play, but a deeply misguided one that although means well, steps on the heads of the truth, equally influenced by the bloody business of film as the more experienced crew are.
Giles Cadle’s set design is sparse and effective; the blank walls of Jennifer and Andrew’s office unbearably high and crushing, with only a single panel open as we watch nameless, speechless passers-by rush past the corridor and enter and exit the lift. The office is effortlessly transformed into an appropriately zen sushi restaurant and an empty alleyway save for a single dumpster. There’s a grim bleakness to the set that Neil Austin’s sombre lighting evokes, heavy on its characters and draining them of visual energy.
The Treatment’s title is a great play on words, as beyond the scriptural changes, Anne herself is subject to change, and is essentially corrupted by her producers. During scene transitions, a projection of a view from a car backseat plays on a screen, and as day turns into night, becomes increasingly blurred, eliciting a sense of fear and trepidation that we might be going blind, and that the car just might crash. In a sense, this might reflect The Treatment’s obscuring of the truth for entertainment’s sake, shackled by the rules of the industry. No one is safe from the corruption of the city, and each and every character suffers in some way or the other, whether emotionally or physically, and it is sadistically satisfying to watch how each one gets their comeuppance, while also fundamentally, existentially terrifying.
Over the course of the play, there is a quiet horror that continually builds up, eventually exploding into violent, in-your-face reality. The Treatment is a marvellous, disturbing piece of theatre that calls into question the ethics and shady going-ons in the process of filmmaking. Ending ambiguously, Crimp has created a hallucinatory, cautionary tale about the city and dirty business, and certainly, the next time we watch a film that’s ‘based on a true story’, we’ll be taking it with a huge pillar of salt.
Photo Credit: Marc Brenner
Performance attended 13/5/17 (Matinee)
The Treatment plays at The Almeida Theatre, London, till 10 June. Tickets available here