Martin Crimp’s “Attempts on Her Life” is rarely performed, and one good reason is that the script hands you a lot of difficulties right off the back.
Here’s a peek.
As you’ll notice, there are no character names next to the lines. In fact, there are no character names anywhere in the script. Nor does Mr. Crimp provide any info on locale, or any stage directions. In short, everything but the dialogue is left to the director and actors to devise.
Lucky for us, devising theatre is our speciality. But how does it work?
As the director, I’ve taken the liberty of assigning a few actors to each scene. At the first rehearsal of the scene we begin by reading it aloud. In the spirit of the work, we haven’t assigned characters or lines yet, so the actors just jump in when they feel like it. They run each other over, speak simultaneously, take turns, and have a free-from exploration of the words in the scene.
Then we begin the long process of discussing “what the scene is about” … I ask a lot of open questions. “Who does it feel like?” “Why are they talking about this?” “How does this connect to the rest of the play?” Believe it or not, after 45 minutes or so of this, we’ve actually made some decisions about what the scene could be. “It’s possible” is an oft-repeated phrase in these sessions.
Then, with few ideas under our belt, we read again, slowly assigning lines to actors based on any available logic. Repeating this process of talking and making small decisions, we eventually arrive at something concrete enough to feel good about, but open enough that it can change and shift in response to what we discover about the rest of the play.
We’re in the midst of doing that 17 times, once for each of the scenes. Then, when we know a few things about the play as a whole, we’ll zoom in and make more decisions. What’s that they say? Wash, rinse, repeat? That’s us right now.