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Tim Crouch’s apocalyptic book group transfers down from the Edinburgh International Festival
This review is from the Edinburgh International Festival, August 2019.
Tim Crouch essentially only writes plays about writing plays, and in doing so he’s not headed down an indulgent cul de sac but crafted one of the most thrilling bodies of work in contemporary British theatre.
And in the snappily-titled ‘Total Immediate Collective Terrestrial Imminent Salvation’ he pushes one of his most audacious formal experiments to date, even if it ultimately proves itself to be fairly lightweight by his sometimes harrowing standards.
In Karl James and Andy Smith’s production, each audience member receives a book. It is the playtext. Sort of. It contains pictures too. And it is a work of prophecy, written by Miles, a bereaved father who founded an apocalyptic cult that appears to be utterly bound to the book. Does this mean Miles’s words are ‘true’, that he has the power of prophecy? Or has he simply brainwashed everyone into thinking that? Or is it ridiculous to even be thinking such things – we are of course just watching a play written by Tim Crouch, in which we appear to have been cast as members of the cult. But is being an audience member being a member of a cult of sorts?
These are the kinds of thoughts that flicker through one’s head whilst watching a Crouch play, which invariably operates on two levels – an interrogation of the meaning of authorship and something else; in this case, a drama about a cult. Though the two are intertwined, and put through an audacious formal wringer, it’s actually a fairly straightforward story. Much of it is filled in via Rachana Jadhav’s poignant pencil illustrations; in the room it largely concerns an encounter between Miles’s daughter Sol (Shyvonne Ahmmad) and her mother Anna (Susan Vidler), who escaped the cult a decade ago and has returned to try and take her away – as prophesied in Miles’s book.
It’s relentlessly fascinating, but unlike Crouch’s great works it kind of doesn’t really build to anything – the ending that occurs is perfectly apt, but it feels light, frictionless, untroubling. The book is beautiful in its conception and execution, but at the very end it feels like eternal trickster Crouch hasn’t quite mastered the power of this new medium.
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