Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Upstairs, London ****
Runs: 1hr 10 mins without interval
TICKETS 020 7565 -5000
In person: Mon–Sat, 10am-start of perf or 6pm if no show
Review of perf seen Sept 13, 2019:
Total immediate collective imminent terrestrial salvation.
Quite a handful of a title to get hold of. But unlike much printed on the front of the bottle these days, it is what it says. It is a total immediate collective imminent terrestrial salvation – of sorts.
That is to say Tim Crouch (The Author, an oak tree, Adler & Gibb), has been at this for some time now – `this’ being sly, provocative, explorations of what `makes’ theatre and uniquely, the relationship between theatre performer and audience.
Many years ago – 2005 in fact – I interviewed Tim Crouch before an oak tree opened the Edinburgh Fringe at the Traverse theatre. I went in highly sceptical; the man and the piece seemed to me manipulative, almost devious. But I ended up moved to tears.
Crouch’s work has that effect. You can see the manipulation or rather you can sense you are being manipulated. Yet the awareness does nothing to stop the `feeling’ engendered by the piece Crouch has made and put before us.
How we the audience are `manipulated’ into `suspending our disbelief’ has I suspect been at the root of what Crouch, the deviser and theatre-maker (as opposed to Crouch the actor) has always been about.
Crouch is not so interested in the cerebral reaction – although there’s intellectual content aplenty in Total immediate… as in all the previous work – but in making us `feel’.
We the audience are very much active participants in a Crouch show giving a whole new meaning to the tired old phrase `audience participation’. Nowhere more so than in Total immediate…
The conceit this time involves literature. Total immediate…is sotto voce, a hymn to books, to reading, to literature. And audience members will find themselves asked to read out passages from the book performers and spectators are reading together in a highly controlled, collective and voluntary endeavour.
The layers of possible interpretation of this act – in real time – are endless.
You could read it as an all too obvious giant metaphor for political manipulation. We submit, all the time, to being manipulated by the media, by politicians.
At the same time, it is a wickedly self-conscious metaphor for the act of making theatre itself – the relationship between performer and audience; you can’t have the one without the other.
And we submit to this, voluntarily, as Shyvonne Ahmmod (a wonderful portrait of youthful distress) and Susan Vidler (calm personified) `instruct’ us when to turn the next page of the story in the book we are collectively holding in our hands.
So much for the `process’. As for content, environmental woes, the nature of belief and family disaster are all interwoven into a story touching on the current sense of the end of our planet if human kind doesn’t begin to organise itself better.
A young girl wakes and with difficulty starts reading a book, interrupted by a second, older woman.
Gradually two narratives emerge, parallel narratives, in which for one the past has been totally eradicated and for whom the other she has spent a life attempting to repair and heal what happened in the past.
In a strange echo of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, the young girl’s actions are entirely fixated on a belief in the shape of a father-figure’s prediction about the coming eclipse which will bring total and never ending darkness.
`Father’ does actually appear, in the shape of Tim Crouch himself, a towering presence these days, a balding eco-warrior in combats and hang-dog exhaustion.
The final book `readings’ are pregnant with double-meanings – environmental, religious, theatrical: `when the light goes out we will be everywhere, past and present and future. Everywhere we ever wanted to be. And if it’s not us, then it will be us elsewhere. But it will be us.’
You could call some of this pretentious and initially, baffling. But as with all things Crouchian, it makes its way tellingly, grippingly, into your consciousness.
Directed by his regular collaborators, Andy Smith and Karl James and this time with designer and book illustrator, Rachana Jadhav creating the book into a sort of mini graphic novel with its pencil-line drawings and cosmic illustrations, Total immersive… is another beguiling, disturbingly effective triumph of experimentation in theatrical form.
I couldn’t get away from the sense that sometimes I felt as if a huge practical joke was being played on me; at other times, with Pippa Murphy’s `immersive’, Nature cracking, shuddering soundscape, I was more than slightly terrified at the resonances it triggered with where we are environmentally, culturally and politically.
Only another five days in London, still a chance to catch it in Dublin, Brighton or Lisbon!
Take note. Master craftsman at work!
Total immediate collective imminent terrestrial salvation.
written by Tim Crouch
Co-Director: Andy Smith
Co-Director: Karl James
Designer: Grace Smart
Book Illustrator & Set Designer: Rachana Jadhav
Lighting Designer: Karen Bryce
Sound Designer: Pippa Murphy
Artistic Associate: Adura Onashile
Casting Director: Laura Donnelly CDG
BSL Performance Interpreter: Yvonne Strain
Costume Supervisor: Lucy Walshaw
Assistant Director: Meghan Doyle
A National Theatre of Scotland production in association with the Royal Court Theatre, Teatro da Bairro Alto, Lisbon and Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts (ACCA).
Co-commissioned with the Royal Court Theatre.
First perf of total immediate collective imminent terrestrial salvation at Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Upstairs, London, Sept 3, 2019. Runs to Sept 21, 2019
Part of the British Council Edinburgh Showcase 2019.
Edinburgh International Festival, Royal Court Theatre, Dublin Theatre Festival (Oct 2-6), Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts, Brighton (Nov 6-9), Teatro de Bairro Alto, Lisbon (Nov 13-16), 2019.
Review published on this site, Sept 16, 2019