Martin Crimp doesn’t like to speak about his plays. He doesn’t like to speak about his family. In fact, he doesn’t like talking to journalists at all. “Whatever I say to you, you will go away and make a shape from it….You will undertake a shaping process…in which I as a person will be misrepresented. It’s inevitable.”*
Crimp’s discomfort with being written about is understandable if you are familiar with his plays. His work is character-ized by spare, carefully controlled language. Directors and actors speak reverently about how he puts each word, each comma there for a specific purpose. “With Martin, it all comes down to the difference between ‘slight pause’ and ‘pause’…you had to have a sense of musicality in order to do it justice.”* Crimp himself describes his work as “text obsessive” and admits to speaking each line aloud. “That’s my own private craziness, talking to myself.”**
Since his first plays were discovered by London’s Orange Tree theatre in the 1980s, Crimp has become an important voice in British theatre, the author of over fifteen produced plays and nearly as many sought-after translations. His work has inspired many other playwrights, especially those of the confrontational In-Yer-Face movement: Sarah Kane referred to Crimp as “one of the few genuine formal innovators writing for the stage.”*
Crimp is known for inventing new structures with each of his plays. “I’m just always looking for new rules, I’m looking for constraints, looking for constraints all the time, and it’s the constraints which will let the material be created by me. It is the constraints that I need.”* His play Getting Attention (1991), about a couple who abuse their young daughter, never allows us to see the child. Instead, Crimp designs the play to allow audiences only the ambiguous sounds of her distress, forcing us to experience events as the neighbors would, with their limited understanding—unsure what they are hearing and reluctant to invade a family’s private life. Crimp’s most famous and most radically structured work is Attempts on Her Life (1997), made up of seventeen scenes about a woman named Anne. As the play progresses, she is described as the girl next door, an international terrorist, a casualty of civil war, even a make of a car. The number of actors is left up to each director, as is their gender, race, and age. Even the lines of dialogue are not ascribed to particular characters but are designed to be distributed differently in each production.
The Country (2000) is also created with rules Crimp has never used before. Written after Attempts on Her Life, The Country is a tightly structured work, designed to be delved into rather than restructured with each new cast. The constraints Crimp chooses in writing The Country come from both literary and everyday sources. The structure is five acts, taken from classical tragedy, while the scenes in this three-character play are modeled on the child’s decision-making game of Rock, Paper, Scissors.
Crimp’s plays are never easy. His work is, as he himself puts it, “deliberately constructed on cultural fault-lines.”* Relying on audience interpretation, the plays rarely fall into neat patterns of revelation and resolution. Crimp is less interested in telling a particular story than he is in having you extract a story from what he has created. His work revels in subjectivity. As biographer Aleks Sierz puts it, “What Martin does is to bear witness. He asks us to look and trusts us to make up our own minds.”*
Quoted Sources: *The Theatre of Martin Crimp by Aleks Sierz, Methuen Drama, 2006 **”Grievous bodily harm” by Maddy Costa, The Guardian, 2007 A word from the Dramaturg Inside spread Martin Crimp, Playwright