Saturday, February 10, 2007

An Oak Tree

One of the reasons I love the theatre is the slight feeling of risk involved in live performance. Will the cast be on fire sparking off each other and the audience taking their performances to different places, or will they have been out on the town the night before and just trying to get through evening.

Well An Oak Tree which has just opened at the Soho Theatre following a run in New York takes the risk to a different level. It is a two man play, but only one actor (writer/director Tim Crouch) has ever read the script before. The second actor is different every night, only meeting Crouch an hour before the show and only seeing the script as they are about to read it out. Not surprisingly this piece has its origins in the Edinburgh Festival, but since its premier there in 2005 has toured the globe, with such luminaries as Mike Meyers and Maura Tierney (of ER fame) filling the shows of the second actor.

The plot, such as it is, revolves around a failing stage hypnotist played by Crouch and Andy (played by the second actor), the father of the daughter the hypnotist killed in a car accident 3 months ago, who volunteers to be part of the hypnotists stage show as a way of trying to find closure. But the plot is not really important, the interest in this play is both in seeing how an actor copes with having to act without any knowledge of what is going on except for the line that Crouch is feeding them at that second, and how Crouch uses this device to play with the mechanics of theatre. He repeatedly breaks down and then rebuilds the fourth wall between the performers and the audience. Simultaniously presenting a play and deconstructing it.

It is difficult to criticise the play having only seen one performance, as you know that tonight and next night will be totally different. However, from last nights performance my view would be that this piece only half works. To put it simply the play part of the performance really doesn't engage on an emotional level, I never felt Andy's loss or the hypnotists pain. This isn't helped by the fact that Crouch probably isn't a good enough actor to really carry the dramatic part of this project off, his female impersonation is laughable.

This isn't to say An Oak Tree isn't worth seeing, the drama has its moments and there are some laugh out loud moments of comedy, and for a theatre lover to see a performance stripped bare like this is intellectually fascinating. And who knows the night you go, Andy might be played by a big name star or a nobody, the performance may spark and fly or completely fall flat on its face, that is the risk you take.

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