Royal Court Theatre
Adler & Gibb is a bit of a teaser. Are the eponymous American conceptual artists around whom Tim Crouch creates his latest work real or fictional? A zip through the search engines reveals an American artist Janet Adler, but one who appears to be very much alive. In Crouch’s scenario, she died in 2003.
Crouch’s interest in form and visual art has already led to such vividly unorthodox but thrilling theatre as The Author and An Oak Tree.
So it is here. In what might be described as an extended performance art installation, Crouch runs the gamut of styles from abstract to full blown cinematic Hollywood realism where an award ceremony is gleefully satirised but also carries a dreadful final sting in its tail.
Intertwined with the formalistic exploration however is also the central theme of Adler & Gibb, conceptual artists who `met’ in 1976, became Manhattan celebrities only to disappear and bury themselves in an isolated forest. Their story is told as if by a young student making a presentation for a scholarship with commentary and slides.
Equally it’s told by a third narrative line, `Louise’, a young actress and her coach `Sam’ searching for the surviving, reclusive Margaret Gibb in her cabin. Louise wants to make a film of the couple, especially Adler who, she says, she has idolised as a role model since a teenager.
Crouch’s methodology using young children as `conceptual’ prop dispensers and acting rehearsal techniques is sly, sometimes slow and lengthy but ultimately brilliantly controlled and gradually acquires chilling tension in a way that has both shocking and salutary implications. Initially seeming to mock radical feminist artists of the period, it becomes a highly ethical, galvanising attack on the appropriation of personal life for consumption as art. And self interest.
To find character in acting, the mantra goes `object, obstacle, intention’. That, in the end, is all there is, screams Sam. As in acting, so in life. Getting what we want.
Adler & Gibb, in the end, is as much about ourselves, the audience, and our drives and consumption of art as it is about artistic and commercial cannibalism.