The Treatment is a work of lofty, detached genius, reminiscent of the jostling intellectualism of Martin Amis – it’s dense, complex, and utterly assured of its own brilliance.
On face value, it’s about how the media – in this case, the film industry – edits and rewrites “truth” until it’s at best a distant cousin of real events (a topic that has well and truly come of age in this era of “fake news”).
But more than that, it’s about how everyone edits and rewrites their own stories, making them more exciting, more palatable, positioning themselves as the hero who rose to glory against the odds, or the victim who survived insurmountable hardship.
In The Treatment, nobody seems able – or willing – to remember their real stories: husbands forget wives, lovers forget dalliances. The details become hazy, the specifics lost amid the swirl of embellishment.
“We ourselves have no real memories,” sighs movie ‘facilitator’ Andrew, as he plunders the naive Anne for her tragic story of domestic abuse. While quietly sinister, her words are soon warped beyond all recognition, and things get worse when Andrew and his wife Jennifer bring in a depraved, has-been script-writer to sex up the depressing reality.
What begins as a series of apparently disconnected vignettes soon becomes a single, twisted rat-king of a narrative, each character propping up their tenuous tales on the person next to them, a line of dominos always destined to fall.
New York City is the screen onto which this procession of little fictions is projected, a malleable, abstract backdrop that’s jarringly different for each character. For one, it’s a world of upmarket restaurants where the waitress has turned obnoxious customer; for another it’s a working-class utopia where rowdy friends drink each night until the early hours; for yet another, it’s a place of cocktail parties in the Upper East Side, where the overworked assistant becomes the star.
The stylishly minimal set is a cinematic, widescreen letterbox, dramatically lit in neon blue or deep orange, adding to the sensation that the events taking place are something beyond reality.
It’s excellently brought to life by a cast who fire on all cylinders: Aisling Loftus brings shades of Mad Men-era Elizabeth Moss to her role as Anne, a startled rabbit-in-the-headlights with a flash of clinical determination behind her glassy eyes. Gary Beadle is brilliant as a cocky actor content to steam-roller Anne’s life for his professional gain; but it’s Indira Varma and Julian Ovenden who stand apart as the nihilistic instigators of this tawdry affair, their affable vacuity both hilarious and terrifying.
The Treatment has spent 25 years stewing in its own juices since it was first performed at the Royal Court, and it’s more pertinent than ever. Darkly satirical and startlingly misanthropic, this is essential viewing for the unreal times in which we live.
First published in City A.M.