Tim Crouch’s continuing odyssey into THE VERY NATURE OF THEATRE ITSELF continues with ‘Truth’s a Dog Must to Kennel’ in which the veteran provocateur manages to somewhat rope his other love Shakespeare into his ongoing quest.
Striding on to the bare Lyceum studio wearing a big set of VR goggles, Crouch starts the show describing what would appear to be a different, fancier theatre he can see through the headset, one with £65 seats, restricted sightlines and pre-theatre dining options, stalls and a circle. It’s a bit disconcerting and also quite funny, as he points at various members of the real audience and equates them with a different virtual crowd: the woman who illicitly snuck into a stalls seat; the man who overate and is seriously struggling to hold it down.
Later, Crouch goes on to describe a production of ‘King Lear’ that he can see through the goggles, in which I believe he’s seeing the action from the perspective of the Fool. He describes a future in which going to the theatre is long redundant, having been entirely replaced by VR productions like this ‘Lear’. But he also puckishly points to the fact that what he’s created in this room is theatre: despite the intentionally microscopic budget, a whole world has been created only in our heads, in this room, because of his words (it’s pretty obvious the headset doesn’t actually work and there is no expensive VR Shakespeare, but he cheerily confirms it).
‘Truth’s a Dog Must to Kennel’ is like a passive-aggressive love letter to theatre, that celebrates it at the same time as criticising it at length. An artist who will clearly never charge £65 a ticket in his life moaning about overpriced West End seating should feel somewhat gauche, no matter how correct he is. But in Crouch’s hands, the show feels like it cleverly subverts its own intent – a criticism of theatre that serves as a vindication, a celebration of theatre that sticks the boot in; channelling the essentially infuriating essence of the art.
It’s all very interesting but I’m not sure it’s ever quite formally thrilling enough to illicit a response stronger than ‘ooh, isn’t that Tim Crouch clever?’ His truly great plays for adults - ‘My Arm’, ‘An Oak Tree’, ‘The Author’ - were a while ago now; his latter work can feel like the output of a scientist who made his name with one huge breakthrough who is now devoting the rest of his career to tinkering with it rather than moving on to a new field. His recent shows for kids have been on the whole more rewarding - there’s a fundamental need to make them entertaining in the conventional sense that’s balanced out the more leftfied sensibilities at play.
The bottom line is that Tim Crouch will do whatever he wants. Will we ever get another flat-out masterpiece from him again? Quite possibly! But he’ll only do it when he’s in the mood.