Attempts on Her Life Online (2022)

Written by Tom Gorman

In March 2022, Coventry University and Tampere University resumed their collaboration post Covid with two weeks of rehearsal exploring the text of Martin Crimp’s ‘Attempts on Her Life’.

This play, written in 1997, contains 17 scenarios, all distinct from one another though each focuses compulsively on constructing narratives around the absent character of ‘Anne’, sometimes referred to as ‘Anya’, ‘Annie’, ‘Anny’, and ‘Annushka’.

Attempts on her Life is a very ‘free’ play to work on insofar as there are no prescribed characters, the action is not set anywhere specific and there are minimal stage directions. While this can be very exciting for an actor it can also be very frightening: if you don’t know who you are playing nor have any idea of why your character says the things they do, what distinguishes Attempts on her Life as an acting performance, rather than a recital of an abstract poem to an audience?

Attempts on Her Life shows the process of fabricating a scenario and interpreting a life. Attempts has no cast list. The play is performed by a group of anonymous speakers of no set gender, age or ethnicity who do not impersonate characters. The number of actors required to stage it is not determined by the author. The audience are confronted with narratives about Anne/Annie/Anushka, the central character. She never appears onstage but we are confronted with images of her that refer to her absence.

Anne’ has multiple identities, occupies multiple locations (five continents are named in scenario 6 alone, and scenario 13
presents her as the tool of alien life forces), is represented both as victim and perpetrator but is absent and silent for the majority of the piece.

She can be both person and thing (scenario 14 posits her as ‘a cheap cigarette’, ‘Ecstasy’, and ‘the edge of a knife’; scenario 7 as a car) and is posited as sexually and spiritually fluid – apparently girl, boy, man and god. Many speakers identify ‘Anne’ as a terrorist, a drug-dealer, an artist, a sex worker, a refugee, the girl next door, an American right-wing fundamentalist, and the archetypal female object of desire in European high-art.

Different voices seek to understand and explain ‘Anne’: a mother and father, a group of art critics, border guards, advertisers, salespersons, right wing survivalists, showbiz entertainers, sexual abusers, friends and lovers. The voices that we hear most often are corporate, who appear to be film or advertising executives searching for a commercial hit.

For our ‘experiment’ we chose seven sections out of the 17 scenarios: The New Anny, 100 Words, The Threat of International Terrorism, Kinda Funny, Porno and Strangely. For the final performance these sections were ‘remixed’ with the casts changing between the first and second weeks of rehearsals.