Edinburgh Fringe 2016
An acting couple who are making a film about the work of the artist, Janet Adler, and her long-term partner, Margaret arrive at a locked up derelict house in the middle of nowhere. Their break in to the property and confrontation with its owner in the search for authenticity for art prompts a questioning of what is real and valid in art.
Never one to give theatre goers an easy ride, Tim Crouch’s Adler and Gibb, is a provocative look at the commodification of art, and the nature of reality in theatre and art.
The play tells two interlocking stories. A young couple, an actor and her acting coach, arrive at a derelict house in the middle of nowhere, classic thriller territory. They are making a film about the famous New York conceptual artist, Janet Adler and her long-term partner, Margaret Gibb.
The back story focuses on the fictitious couple’s rejection of fame, and retreat from a world that is increasingly appropriating their art and consuming them. Janet Adler has died sometime previously in mysterious circumstances, while Margaret Gibb has vanished from view.
The play is framed by a post graduate art student presenting on Adler and Gibb in a deeply serious ‘arty’ manner. Each time she calls ‘new slide, please’, the young couple take up their story again.
The couple break into the locked house, not realising that Margaret Gibb is still very much alive. Gun in hand, Gibb confronts them, defending her territory, both physical and emotional. Insensitive to this, the actor carries on regardless in her rapacious quest for authenticity, striving not just to play Janet Adler but to own her.
The actors move fluently from one acting mode to another – they start in a very anti-naturalistic mode, move through naturalism. to embrace elements of melodrama. That they do so with such fluidity is testament to their acting skills.
The young couple, Cath Whitefield and Mark Edel-Hunt, start off standing side by side facing the audience to deliver their lines. The aching pain and loss break through Margaret Gibb’s defensiveness in Gina Moxley’s fine performance.
A small child follows instructions given to him through a microphone by a woman seated at the back of the stage, as well as playing Gibb’s dog. A toy gun that stands in for a real gun is replaced by a plastic lobster – why should one symbolic prop be any more real than another? In its determined anti-naturalism the play questions our ideas of reality and what is or is not real in theatre.
Adler and Gibb throws ideas of appropriation, authenticity and legacy up for us to grapple with. The commodification of art and creation of artificial value born out of fame rather than aesthetics is put under the spotlight. Increasingly, our consumerist society tries to put a value on and own everything, even things that cannot be owned.
As always, Tim Crouch’s writing is intelligent, witty and playful; Adler and Gibb provokes and challenges, but is always engrossing. Tim Crouch and long-time collaborators, Karl James and a smith direct. The direction,while seemingly loose and relaxed, is actually a very tightly finessed affair, managing shifts of tempo and scene with ease.
Adler and Gibb is that rare thing – a play that credits its audience with sufficient intelligence to work it out.
(It is a distilled version of the original production at the Royal Court in 2014.)