The On the Rocks festival this year brought us an experimental, post-modernist number: Attempts on her Life. With dialogue that is witty, forbidding, and ever-elusive, Sonder Theatre nailed a play which is supposed to be both evocative and political. The stage was done away with – for the purposes of the play, it would have been obsolete – and instead the actors were scattered among the audience members; they sprung up from among us and therefore they were us.
Actors piped up in turn, taking over from one another, arguing at times, self-editing to try to communicate just what exactly they wanted to convey. Structurally, the script could have been made into a monologue, but it worked so well with multiple voices because each actor encapsulated the different moods the script could take. It was like that game where you each say a sentence to build a ridiculous story – and the story of ‘Anne’ was indeed absurd… absurd because it was half-nonsensical and half spot-on, like any life.
Anne, in all her shape-shifting, definition-evading glory, is all of us. The patois of experiences and forms detailed in the play came together to provide a cross-section of life. Anne, Anny, Anushka – she’s some kind of life force. She’s a model of car, a terrorist, a porn star, a holiday hostess, a refugee, a young backpacker with a big red canvas bag – and the bag is full of rocks, because that’s the point. What’s the point? Perhaps that individualism is a myth, and that the faux-individualistic systems of consumerism and capitalism only further obscure any vestige of unique personhood.
There was a focus on the dialogue – a rich script, concentrated, but not without dry and droll humour. I particularly liked the car advert, spoken in French by one actor and closely followed by a translation in English by another. Like a futuristic automaton, she goes from a suave, smiling description of the breezy traverses of Anny-the-car, to an angry assertion that in Anny, there is “no room for Gypsies, Arabs, Jews, Turks, Kurds, blacks, or any of that human scum.” Bizarre, startling, and excellently acted. Snippets of this dialogue appear, select disembodied phrases, showed in white lettering on small black screens around us –you read what you’ve heard, and you feel that decontexualisation is unnerving. Similarly, a folkily-sung song by Amy Hill about Anny the terrorist continued that poetic incongruity.
The script clearly allowed for lots of artistic licence, and I applaud the minimalistic approach taken by director Joanna Bowman – readings reviews of other productions of the play before I came, I was expecting something quite media-heavy and flashy, but the opposite was true: the focus was solely on delivering the dialogue, and as this dialogue is so multi-layered, it was an excellent choice to keep it simple. The actors were very good – embodying different perceptions and lenses, they were, in turn, subtle, direct, impassioned.
Large party poppers exploded at the end, raining lots of confetti gently over all the audience members (very well orchestrated) – has Anny met her end, we wonder? It was a beautiful end. The confetti was a great touch; very atmospheric, and provided good closure to a play that I imagine could perhaps just end abruptly, or trail off because of the lack of action or plot. Overall, an evocative and well-crafted production of a thought-provoking, stirring play from Sonder Theatre.