FringeReview UK 2019
Co-directed by Andy Smith and Karl James, with book illustrations and set design – a simple space with minimal props – by Rachana Jadhav. Lighting design’s by Karen Bryce with Pippa Murphy’s sound design. Till September 21st then tours.
Exquisite isn’t the first term you’d apply to Tim Crouch’s work. But here he’s hit on a perfect metaphor involving scripted participation: it’s chillingly good too, the title hinting why: Total Immediate Collective Imminent Terrestrial Salvation.
It’s an advance on say An Oak Tree where a fresh actor each night reads sight unseen a script bouncing off Crouch himself. This time the audience follows a script just as the actors do, turn over only when signalled ‘OK’ by one of three actors. An audience member’s then either co-opted or volunteers – sometimes after tense silence – to read out from the script. It’s the text’s presentation too. Leave aside the script you’ve arrived with (oh and even water’s banned, though there’s an on-site facility, all to prevent clutter). A Gideon Bible-style hardbound in green version awaits you, in colour with expensive wormholes.
That’s the complicity. The words we’re reminded all arise from a master, the unseen Miles. It’s true for two actors Shyvonne Ahmmad’s Sol and Susan Vidler’s Anna: enacting a winning ardent conversion, or an anxious maternal agency. Both hardly remove their eyes from the script, continually reminding us they’re following direction. Then a third actor erupting towards the end does something different. So far it might seem an exercise in compliance, fourth-wall deconstructive dialogue. Yes but.
The story though swiftly reminds us why we’re inducted into a circle, cult followers denying claims thrown out initially by Vidler’s Anna, mother of Bonnie (now Sol), ex-wife of Miles, their son’s death in ice the trigger for Miles’ near-death after plunging in, and recovery into messianic guru status predicting global annihilation via a mix of eco-snuff and black holes. Then storyboarding (‘OK’) we turn pages to Anna’s eventual break, leaving him and reluctantly Bonnie in deepest Bolivia. She’s back to try and reclaim Bonnie. Or Sol, who on occasion played by any audience member now fires back: ‘If people are unhappy they can leave… No-one’s here against their will’ Of journalists: ‘They try to discredit us… You can see in their faces.’ OK. Turn the page.
Those coercive cult-speak lines are familiar to us from Jim Jones’ enforced mantra: ‘I’m just happy to be here’ through the Baghwan Sri Rajneesh Oregon phase through the Waco siege. Most end in mass death. The cult here follows Miles’ insights into the end of the universe predicted in a black hole where something like the Andromeda galaxy drops in for dinner and we’re translated. Or as the images suggest (‘OK’) it might just be an eclipse.
Co-directed by Andy Smith and Karl James, the book illustrations and set design – a simple space with minimal props – are Rachana Jadhav’s work. These images comprise more of the 136 pages than the text, those worm-holed colour-enriched Gideons used for perusing on-site. The book’s an exquisite storyboarding, the cartoons furnishing much of the story, something we saw a hint of only recently in this space, in seven methods of killing kylie jenner. Here though it’s extensive, another complicity: the audience moves from language to pictorial silence; children learning a visual catechism. And we’re given ambient permission. Lighting design’s by Karen Bryce with Pippa Murphy’s sound design evoking rain forest, bird calls and appropriate tropical life.
Crouch here has hit a perfect metaphor for his techniques and innovations. His clarity layers complicity: a fusion of messianic guru and eco-extinction is nicely pointed. It’s revivified the whole end-of-world trope with quantifiable urgency. There’s still room though for semi-inspired cranks, dodgy pseudo-science and the susceptibility of millions to be led to a different destruction. Crouch guys himself too with admirable stillness. The most consistently satisfying work of Tim Crouch I’ve seen.