By Martin Crimp
Directed by Alyson Campbell
With Dion Mills, Sarah Sutherland, David Whiteley & Ben Anderson
Set Design by Peter Mumford
Lighting by Richard Whitehouse
Fewer Emergencies (March 15 – April 16 2006) Helen Thomson, The Age 20/3/2006
THIS third production of a Martin Crimp play in the past year, following the MTC’s Cruel and Tender last March and Red Stitch’s The Country in July, is the most challenging to date. It premiered at London’s Royal Court Theatre in September last year and shows the influence of the plays of Sarah Kane.
Crimp’s work has been described in terms like postmodern, surreal, absurd, and Fewer Emergencies suggests all these things, but it is most distinctively simply enigmatic. We are made to work for his meanings, stimulated by the challenge of a puzzle.
It consists of three short plays, not-quite-dialogues spoken by characters who sit, their feet in water, facing us, staring into the middle distance.
In the first a trio of two men and a woman discuss a marriage made in haste and soon regretted.
A particularly impressive performance from Sarah Sutherland complicates the superficially banal conversation. Without actually grammatically slipping from “she” to “I” the woman defensively adopts the point of view of the wife and mother. She becomes implicated in a bizarre, cruel scenario of lives where pain and rage are assiduously disguised by a brittle veneer of middle-class materialism. The role of perfect mother is suddenly undermined by terrifying possibilities of abuse.
Even more chilling is the second play where once again the speaker ostensibly discusses another man, but gradually becomes the frightening character who systematically shoots a school teacher in the classroom, and then four children, one by one. Ben Anderson as the main character here gives a powerful, disturbing version of a kind of madness barely controlled by the conventions of narrative.
Once again there is a chilling disjunction between affect and reportage: we hear only the facts, with just an occasional leakage of childish terror and helpless fear to punctuate the horrific action being described.
The third play enters a realm of surreal cruelty, and once again a child is the victim, the same child we heard about in the first play. By this time the unnatural inhibition of responses on the part of the characters who are listeners and prompters, (with tight, suitably chilling performances from Dion Mills and David Whiteley) thoroughly implicates them as fellow abusers in a world where innocence is systematically destroyed.
Alyson Campbell’s fine direction ensures maximum impact for this intriguing, disturbing play.
Bill Perrett, The Sunday Age 26/03/2006
Red Stitch begins its 2006 season with three short plays (Whole Blue Sky, Face to the Wall and Fewer Emergencies) by Martin Crimp. Guest actor Sarah Sutherland and ensemble members Dion Mills and David Whiteley take the parts in the first, and are joined by new member Ben Anderson in the second. In each play, the actors are seated on chairs in a shallow pool of water, which contains a few rubber ducks. The precise significance of the set is unclear, but it isn’t out of keeping with the minimal and absurdist nature of these works, whose worlds are actually constructed of language.
None of the plays is “about” the characters who sit on the stage. Each play is actually a narrative that is produced by the characters, who look out from the set to a distance behind the audience, turning to each other occasionally to argue or question. Each creates a storyline and defends their characters’ actions and attitudes against the criticism of the others.
In the first, we’re told, a young woman falls in love and gets married, but the marriage is a mistake. This story is the creation of Sutherland’s character, who is fiercly protective of the young woman and of her son, Bobby, and clearly has some identity with her. In the second, a student goes to a junior school and begins to shoot the staff and other students. Again, the characters on stage create the story, almost as though they were working on a film or television script; but at the same time, the story they are telling has a horrifying reality. In the last play, the child Bobby returns, this time in a nightmare house/prison from which he struggles to free himself.
Crimp’s scripts are marvels of dark, surreal, suggestive creation. The cast is excellent in a demanding piece that requires precision and the ability to create character with little but voice and expression. Special mention to Richard Whitehouse’s atmospheric lighting design.