Monday, October 18, 2010

News From Nowhere, ‘The Author’: Story Time

Project Arts Centre, Dublin
Oct 12-17
My review of The Author coming up just as soon as I accidentally sit beside Tim Crouch (dammit!) …

Have we come to expect a certain ‘form’ of theatre? Do we rely on its familiarity of procedure to procure a good experience of it? This is what the work of Tim Crouch questions. I have gone to performances which tampered with theatrical code in a way that wasn’t traditional or ‘familiar’, and have had quite profound experiences at them. Despite this, The Author left me completely disorientated.

I wasn’t expecting to be ‘blown away’ by the play’s structural premise. So there are two seating banks arranged opposite each other and an absence of a stage. Two weeks ago I was tied to a wheelchair and fed by a stranger in Ontroerend Goed’s The Smile Off Your Face. I have come to love one-on-one theatre, and while I am fascinated by its form, it would be wrong to declare it better than anything a theatre-full of people can offer. The Author provides a unity that the illusions of ‘one-on-one’ can’t offer, and that’s a ‘togetherness’ beyond two individuals that is rather real.

There’s a strange energy at work in the room during this performance. Once one gets accustomed to having very little else to direct their spectatorship towards than those sitting across from you, the story commences. The performers reveal themselves: Chris Goode as a quirky theatre-goer diehard; Vic Llewellyn and Esther Smith as performers in Tim Crouch’s new play in the Royal Court Theatre about the mutilations of war and the media’s savouring of it; and the playwright Tim Crouch himself. The actors perform in personae of themselves, fed along nicely by the dexterities of Crouch’s delectable script. The writing then leads the performance down dark putrid paths, and The Author is rendered completely unpredictable and unfamiliar. 

There is a lot to be negotiated here. First there is the presence of the audience as a whole. When Goode speaks the very first lines of the play, he draws attention to the fact that everybody is staring at him. It is easy to perform in one-on-one theatre, as it is just the performer you’re taking action with. Needless to say, a roomful of people is intimidating and taking action before everyone is daunting. The show is interjected with recesses in which the actors abandon their address to the room and start conversing with those around them. In turn, the audience members follow the cue to talk amongst themselves. Having attended the play by myself, I found such instances to be comfortless and lonesome*. The uneasiness of my predicament was not caused by Crouch and company but rather by the social arrangement of the audience who walked in the door and sat down. Reality punches its way into Crouch’s story and reminds us of the very real people in the room and of our relationships, or lack of, with them.
*During the later recess I had a very pleasant conversation with Crouch himself, as I had unknowingly sat next to him when I entered. Nice guy. For the record, he believes five euro for the programme is steep.

The performers are incredibly endearing in the telling of their stories, and are especially considerate of the audience’s spectatorship as they continuously ask: “Can you see?” (given the layout of the performance, there were rare angles in the room at which one could see everything without rotating their neck). The Author chaotically loses control as Crouch’s war ‘play’ comes to mutilate its performers in their own psychologies. Disturbed by the demands of confronting humanity’s bloodthirst and savagery, the performers themselves carry out disturbed acts. Most irredeemable are the actions of Crouch himself. Having to sit right next to him, capturing the details of his revolting crime with a playwright’s gift for description that previously charmed but now only horrified, was a most demented experience I won’t forget. Betrayed are our once identifiable shapes of humanity, and what is left is delirium. 
The Author is a brilliant piece. Crouch’s writing marries nicely with the form as opposed to dominating or submitting to it. It is a work which unites the audience in both its playfulness and its darkness. At one point in the performance, Crouch says:

“ … that’s usually the way, isn’t it? Looking at society at its edges as opposed to its centre.” 

The material of such a “centre” is present in The Author. In fact, it sits right next to you. 

What did everybody else think?

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