Settle back into the warmth of the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs. Relax as the story unfolds. For...… Read more
Relax as the story unfolds. For you. With you. Of you. A story of hope, violence and exploitation. Laugh with the actors, tap your feet to the music, turn to your neighbour. You’re here.
Tim Crouch’s new play is about the abuse carried out in the name of the spectator. His previous plays include England, An Oak Tree and My Arm.
Tim Crouch is a peach of a theatre maker: conceptual without being obscure; experimental without losing the plot, or indeed faith in the power of words to move you.
— Time Out
Contains material that may be disturbing. Recommended for ages 18+.
5th- 29th August Traverse Theatre Edinburgh
1st-2nd September Korjaamo Culture Factory
8th-10th September Pavilion Theatre
24th- 25th September The North Wall Arts Centre
28th September- 02 October Bristol Old Vic
6th- 8th October- Northern Stage
19th- 23rd October Warwick Arts Centre
28th-29th October TRAFO – House of Contemporary Arts
5th- 6th November The Workshop Theatre
10th- 13th November Birmingham Rep Theatre
16th- 20th November Royal Exchange Manchester
23rd- 25th November Culturgest Lisbon
Reviews of The Author at the Royal Court 4 stars Telegraph, Dominic Cavendish, Thur 01 Oct 2009
Unlike most pieces about theatre, The Author is at once sharply satirical and coolly thought-provoking.
Violent, terrible things have been seen on stage at the Royal Court down the years: from sex acts and harrowing mutilations to the stoning to death of a baby and cannibalism. That taste for lavish brutality became a bit of a joke by the end of the Nineties. And now the experimental theatre-maker Tim Crouch has decided to exhume and run with that joke to give us a very different kind of ‘in-yer-face’ show, one which invites us to consider what on earth ‘cutting-edge’ audiences and actors think they’re playing at.
On entering the Theatre Upstairs, you realise – shock, horror, laugh – that there’s no set or stage for the evening’s entertainment; instead, just two facing blocks of tiered seating. It all promises to get rather intimate, possibly irritating, if not to say claustrophobic and tense.
Suddenly someone (Adrian Howells) starts speaking, in character as a gushy, camply effusive audience-member. He can’t wait to see what will happen. ‘This is such a versatile space! Isn’t it versatile? It’s amazing what they can do. They can do anything! Can’t they?’ He prods randomly selected punters to divulge their names and titbits about themselves. It’s all very gentle and approving. ‘We’re all so gorgeous, aren’t we? Look at us! Look!’
This arch confessional is augmented by contributions from three others dotted among the spectators, including a bald and creepily beaming Crouch, who all worked on a (fictional) hard-hitting Royal Court production that ‘Adrian’ saw. The overly earnest talk is of a gruelling rehearsal process – involving studying footage of beheadings. Through the splintered, scripted chat, we form a picture of a company that ceased to be able to distinguish between art and life. And that picture in turn reflects back at us the question – at what point do we have to take responsibility for what we look at?
Usually theatre ‘about theatre’ suffers from a reprehensible self-indulgence but here it’s at once sharply satirical and coolly thought-provoking. The piece feels relaxed and at times like an inconsequential in-joke but it carries a lethal accusation: that contemporary theatre, and its acolytes, have developed a culpable immunity to the horrors they feed upon.
Many of you will probably be thinking: tell us something we didn’t know! But with so much complacency about the value of the arts knocking around these days, this kind of teasing, immersive examination of theatre’s sustaining assumptions is hugely welcome. 4 stars The Guardian, Lyn Gardener, Thur 01 Oct 2009
Enter the Royal Court Upstairs and there is no stage, only two banks of seats facing each other. It’s from here, within the heart of the audience, that Tim Crouch’s latest remarkable piece emerges. It’s about a writer called Tim Crouch, who has written a successful and shocking play about violent abuse that has been staged at the Court, the two actors who appeared in it, and a man who saw it. It’s about us, what we see, and what we choose to see.
A great deal of theatre is tell and show. Not Crouch’s. There is nothing to see. The audience are collaborators who are required to use their imaginations to conjure up images. So it is with this bold, brave, playful piece, a devastating riff on ways of seeing and turning a blind eye to our own moral choices. As collaborators in this story, we become complicit in what is seen and unseen. Even if we close our eyes and sew up the lids, the choice has been made, and the pornographic images roll like a movie inside our heads: what has been seen takes root, grows and multiplies.
Yes, there are times during this evening when the levels of self-consciousness are high, and the game-playing (not least with the Royal Court’s own history, with references to babies who meet their end in Edward Bond and Sarah Kane) can be a tad irritating. But this is a dazzling theatrical experience that lets nobody off the hook, opening our eyes to what should be blindingly obvious: we all have a choice. 4 stars Financial Times, Ian Shuttleworth, Fri 02 Oct 2009
Our responses to cultural input can be strange and complex. We learn at an early age to distinguish real from “pretend”, yet we relish theatre because sharing time and space with performers makes the experience more “real”. And what about verbatim or other fact-based theatre? Or fictional drama staged after research into real-life analogues of characters? And what is it that we get from theatre? Entertainment and escape? Confrontation and challenge?
Tim Crouch’s plays consistently investigate how audience, performers and material interact, and they do so in deceptively low-key modes of performance. There is no “action” to speak of in The Author . . . in fact, there is not even a stage, just two opposing banks of seating in which, among us, sit four performers including Crouch himself. He plays “Tim Crouch”, the author of a (fictitious) play in which two of the others (played by Vic Llewellyn and Esther Smith) performed and the third, an avid theatregoer (Adrian Howells), had an extreme experience. They speak to us and only occasionally to each other, sharing their views, various anecdotes and experiences with us. It is, as Crouch’s script says, “an easy, playful presence”.
Almost imperceptibly at first, references to sexual and violent enormities creep in, gradually moving into the foreground until we are questioning the proprieties of using such events, such knowledge, in drama. Do we devalue people’s traumas by plugging them into an actor’s characterisation? Do we risk such energies spilling off the stage? Do we grow desensitised ourselves? How far are we as spectators prepared to authorise such possibilities? The repeated questions to us, “Can you see all right?” and “Are you okay if I carry on?”, draw more muted and uneasy responses from us as we watch, chiefly, ourselves and our own reactions.
This is not audience participation; it is the audience at once being the theatre and interrogating it. Lighting cues and musical interludes sometimes manipulate us overtly, on other occasions deliberately abrade against the mood of the moment. At the end, after the performers have left the space one by one, we too file out to the unsettlingly wistful strains of the theme to Midnight Cowboy.
The Times, Dominic Maxwell, Thur 01 Oct 2009
The late Spike Milligan had a great, unrealised wheeze: to stage a play in which, when the curtain went up, the audience would be confronted not with a set of actors, but with another audience, looking back at them. Michael Frayn had a crack at this with the onstage audience, played by actors, in his 1990 flop Look Look. And now the ever-experimental Tim Crouch has written a play in which an audience sits facing itself in two banks of raked seats while four actors soliloquise, address each other, address the crowd.
It’s hard to define, and that’s sort of the point. One actor’s cheery observations about the event are intercut with Crouch’s past-tense talk about an earlier play that involved research into the brutality of modern war. You don’t know if you might be talking to another actor the gentle Vic Llewellyn, say, who played the abusive father in that play; or Esther Smith, who bursts into song in this one.
“I love the liveness of theatre,” says the chatty Adrian Howells who, like all the performers, is playing himself. But while there’s scope for improvisation, The Author is deeply stagey. In this ludic production by Karl James and a smith (sic) the actors are speaking written lines. Their exhortations to interaction Is everyone OK? are largely rhetorical. But the narrative, about their previous show together and the impact of researching and depicting brutality, makes you wonder where this is all headed.
Nowhere nice, as it turns out. Although even then, as the smiling, poetical Crouch muses on misdeeds from row E like some vicar of the avant-garde, the boundaries stay blurred. Are the metatheatrics just foliage? Or are they the message, a musing on the false divide between the real and the bogus, the safe and the perilous?
The uncertainty is what’s exciting here. And though there’s a lot of navel-gazing, it’s not the actors’ indulgence it sometimes appears to be amid 80 minutes that don’t always fly by. American sitcom themes play while you chat to your neighbour or look at the rest of the audience as if they were an artwork. A man confesses to a horrible misdeed. An actor storms out. Should we care? We’re in a crowd, yet left to our own devices. The Author is by turns funny, twee, exciting, unnerving and dull, and I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.
Whatsonstage, Theo Bosanquet, Wed 30 Sept 2009
The Author, the latest chapter in Tim Crouch’s ongoing theatrical experiment, provides an evening that is both frustrating and compelling in equal measure.
Performed and set in the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs – which celebrates its 40th birthday this season – it uses the audience rake as its stage (two seating units are set opposite each other), and the performers, including Crouch himself, sit among us.
It starts jovially, with Adrian Howells, who rather puts one in mind of the comedian Alan Carr, warming us up with some feel-good banter. “Isn’t this great?” he excitedly asks an audience member. “Kind of”, she nervously replies. (Another on press night made his feelings plain by walking out shortly after this exchange.)
It soon becomes apparent that Howells is representative of us, the audience. He discusses his membership of the Royal Court friends scheme as two actors, Esther Smith and Vic Llewellyn, talk about their experiences playing a father and daughter in a sexually abusive relationship in one of Crouch’s plays – Llewellyn in particular is shown as a victim of demanding authorial intentions.
Crouch – the author and darling of the universities – in turn describes his moral breakdown during the same period, largely caused by the effect of violent imagery on his psyche while researching the play, which builds to a shocking confession (chillingly told in total darkness).
As an examination of storytelling technique and audience custom, it’s often fascinating. Although I wouldn’t go as far to say I felt a particularly strong bond with my co bench-warmers, there is something inherently exciting about feeling involved in a play, as opposed to merely watching it. That said, there’s nothing new in this approach, and there’s a slight feeling that as a puppeteer Crouch doesn’t quite have full command of the strings.
The speeches are regularly interspersed by music – designed, says Crouch in a script note, to act as a release valve. But it’s not a release valve we need, and these interruptions can grow irritating, even if they highlight how easily our attentions can be commanded by ambient music. As theatregoers we are trained in customs, and Crouch delights in exposing these for the tricks they are.
I was sharing a pew with Crouch on the night, and found the close proximity of him at first alarming, but subsequently spellbinding. He’s a first-rate storyteller, and though that story may well be a difficult and fragmented one to hear, it nevertheless provides a worthy addition, and knowing nod, to the rich and experimental canon of the Theatre Upstairs.