Thursday 13 August 2015

Edinburgh Fringe 2015 – An Oak Tree at the Traverse, or, A Great Theatrical Mystery

This is the tenth anniversary production of this show which has, during its lifetime, travelled widely, received an off-Broadway award and, as a google search afterwards revealed, been extravagantly praised by many critics. After sitting through it myself I cannot think how any of this has been possible. This is one of the worst examples of “the emperor has no clothes” theatre it has been my misfortune recently to encounter.

The conceit of Tim Crouch's play is that the other performer changes with each performance and has no idea of the script until they arrive on stage and he starts handing them clipboards and telling them what to say next. For reasons also passing understanding, past reviews reveal that a great many leading men and women have subjected themselves to this experience over the decade. On this occasion the second performer was Sharon Duncan-Brewster who I don't think I have previously encountered.

The narrative, such as it is, concerns a hypnotist (Crouch) who killed a child in a car accident (Duncan-Brewster plays the kid's father). Since this tragedy the hypnotist's act has gone to pot until, on this occasion, he ends up with the father as one of the subjects of his act, except he doesn't recognise him. If other critics are to be believed, the play is both a powerful exploration of this relationship, and a clever playing with theatrical form. I don't think it is either of these things.

It fails to be the first because of the totally artificial set up. You can play with the artificial nature of the theatre while still packing emotional punch if you're a playwright as great as, for example, Beckett. Very few people are as great as Beckett, and Crouch most certainly isn't anywhere close. I never believed in the hypnotist or the father from beginning to end and as a result I didn't give a fig about the story. Something might be salvaged from this if Crouch's playing with the form were either very clever or very funny, but again it is neither. It is slow paced, dull and has, as far as I can see, nothing new to say. At £20 for 75 minutes the show is also over-priced. To be avoided.

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