‘An Oak Tree’ is now ten years old. Tim Crouch’s play for two actors is a rare glimpse of the nuts and bolts of making theatre. Its moments of absurd comedy and themes of loss and separation only serving to emphasise that ‘An Oak Tree’ is about what theatre is and what it can do.
Crouch refers to the distinction made by the artist Marcel Duchap between ‘retinal’ and ‘conceptual’ art, and places himself firmly in the conceptual camp, whilst also recognising that all theatre contains this tension between what we see and what we understand.
Which means there are no smoke or mirrors here, only two actors and the minimum of staging.
Crouch and his fellow actor, in this case Sharon Duncan-Brewster (no actor normally performs opposite Crouch more than once) portray a hypnotist presenting his act in a pub, encountering the father of a child who was accidentally killed by the hypnotist some time before. Grief, loss, guilt and our inarticulacy in the face of these all drive ‘An Oak Tree’, but what we also see is something of the way theatre works, on us, the audience.
Work we do, but in positive ways. Crouch’s text is no more opaque than his presentation, and there is nothing in either which is difficult to understand, simply layers of meaning to be unpeeled like an onion, each of which we realise is integral to the whole.
If ‘An Oak Tree’ is about loss, it’s also about giving, both the way actors have to give to one another in order for theatre to work, and what actors and audiences give each other, in order that theatre can work for both.
It’s a unique piece of work, though aren’t they all, but in this case what makes it special is the inclusion of all of us in what is produced.
This is an hour and a quarter’s worth of high quality theatrical experience that repays our time in many different ways.
Til 16 August (times vary)