This is a weird one. Consider it the text based rendition of thinking out loud.
At the interval of The Treatment, I was saying how much I was liking it, but that I didn’t really have a clue what was going on.
And then I started to think.
What did I mean? I understood the plot, as in, I understood what was propelling the narrative forward. It’s the story of a woman, Anne, who sells a story to film producers. Except the story is hers. As in, it’s autobiography – which makes it all the worse when the producers choose to merge it with a fictitious story.
The plot is relatively straightforward. There are characters. They’re well-performed by a very solid company (Particularly liked Indira Varma. But when is she not great?) The production never seeks to obscure – in fact, this is the first time I’ve gone to the Almeida and felt like I was watching a play as opposed to some sort of live installation. There was a set. Blackouts. Everything seemed geared towards clarity.
There’s something under the skin of The Treatment that is utterly insoluble. I like to think of myself as reasonable articulate, but I haven’t a clue how to talk about it.
It’s in the text, it’s not an addition of this production, clearly. And I’ve never seen or read another Crimp play for comparison. And it’s not like I take notes. So what follows is complete speculation.
The characters are all to some degree narcissists. That may well be true of all people, and it may be particularly heightened in people in media, but everyone is thoroughly unlikable. The traditional structure of the piece and simplicity in the production jars with the repellent nature of the characters; you should be able to connect with even awful characters in this form, right?
Maybe there’s something in there about abuse. During the talkback, Aisling Loftus mentioned that she had been thinking about the idea of abuse. Apparently, she read an article about an aid convoy tasked with saving children destined for the sex trade, and to convince them that they should go with the aid workers, they essentially had to traumatise them. There was one convoy that refused to traumatise the children, feeling it was somehow worse. There’s a sense in the play that we’re watching someone be horribly abused, but we’re not quite sure how? Or who is the abuser perhaps? A lack of a moral centre opens the door to chaos.
Maybe the lighting just made me feel a bit queasy.
Maybe it’s all the allusions to high tragedy, the sense that everything is an extension of reality, and can be further extended into literary and dramatic. Perhaps the deep well of ambiguity underneath the text draws more focus to the simplicity of the plot, heightening it into some riff on a classical tragedy.
Maybe there’s actually nothing to understand. Maybe the production was just opaque – but I don’t believe that. Maybe I went in thinking “I need to really think about this one” to such an extent that I’ve overthought it and now have lost grip on reality altogether.
But more interestingly, is it possibly to like something that you don’t understand?
My instinct is to say “why would you? If you don’t understand something how can you know you like it?”
My second thought is, “sure! If your gut likes it, then great! People listen to lyrics in a foreign language at the opera house and they like it (or do they just pretend to?) right?!”
I thought about Hamlet. I don’t understand Hamlet. I have an understanding of Hamlet. David Hare once suggested that maybe it is insolubility that maybe makes plays great. I have a similar thing with Angels in America*, I have an understanding of it, but I wouldn’t dream of saying I understand it. Because that suggests that I’ve solved it somehow – and drama isn’t meant to be solved, because that makes it sound like a maths question with one answer. Clearly, drama doesn’t.
I’m fine – I think – with not understanding something. I’m less fine with not knowing why I don’t understand it.
Quite probably, that’s the point.
These are some thoughts I had. They’re not finished. They’re barely coherent. But I had them!
*lmao you thought I’d get through a blog without mentioning it hahaha not gonna happen.
Photo by Marc Brenner.