Adler & Gibb

  • Theatre
  • Experimental
Critics' choice
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© Johan Persson

Amelda Brown (Gibb)

© Johan Persson

Denise Gough (Louise)

© Johan Persson

Denise Gough (Louise)

© Johan Persson

Amelda Brown (Gibb) and Brian Ferguson (Sam)

‘I killed the fucking artdog!’

The lunatic has been given the keys to the asylum: with his new work ‘Adler & Gibb’, mischievous metatheatrical theatre maker Tim Crouch comes in from the outer edges to stage a first work on the Royal Court’s storied main stage. The step up in scale isn’t stumble-free. But at its best, this hilarious, harrowing and maddening interrogation of the value of art explodes with fearless intent and piercing intelligence.

Reduced to the basics, ‘Adler & Gibb’ has a relatively straightforward plot that could presumably be staged in a more conventional manner than this twinkle-eyed Brechtian circus (Crouch directs, alongside Karl James and Andy Smith).

Fictional peers of Warhol, Janet Adler and Margaret Gibb were a pair of uncompromising New York conceptual artists whose career ended with Adler’s death a decade ago. Now a biopic of their life is being made — for excruciatingly cynical reasons  — and actor Louise (Denise Gough) and her coach Sam (Brian Fergusson) intend to bust into the ramshackle mansion Adler and Gibb retreated to in old age to hunt for personal effects. What they don’t expect to find is Gibb (Amelda Brown), plus, er, an ‘artdog’.

As Louise behaves in an ever more eccentric manner in her quest to ‘find’ Adler, the questions hail down: do throwaway, momentary gestures from contemporary artists lose integrity when placed on a pedestal? Is conceptual art any nobler than more accessible disciplines? Does any art mean anything intrinsically, or is all meaning ascribed? Will money ruin everything, anyway?

Crouch and co’s production sparkles with puckish artifice: a pair of silent child actors stand in for everything from a dog to a dead body and all the scenes are framed as ‘slides’ on a presentation by Rachel Redford’s hysterically gauche art student. For the longest time it all works, given a steely core of integrity by Gough’s bug eyed intensity and Brown’s feral dignity.

It doesn’t quite make it over the last hurdle, though: Crouch’s relentless emphasis of the show's artificiality means than when Gibb is given a beautiful late speech about the reality of her relationship with Adler, one can’t help but feel it would be hypocritical of Crouch to expect us to simply accept it at face value. And the ending is staggeringly unsubtle, the final scene effectively a needless reprise of the one before it (the danger of three directors, one suspects).

There’s an inherent irony in making any sort of value judgement on ‘Adler & Gibb’. But whatever you feel about this latest piece, Tim Crouch has earned his place in the contemporary theatre pantheon — it’s only right that his work is on display at the Royal Court.

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