Saturday, June 15

An Oak Tree – Lyceum Studio

Tim Crouch’s fiercely respected set-less, rehearsal-less, prop-less look at how we interact with one another is the most complicated piece of theatre I’ve ever seen. The basic premise is so simple – a hypnotist invites a volunteer on stage – but in only an hour you are tangled up in a precision bit of chaos that is impossible to get out of. And you can’t even go back to make sense of what you saw with a re-watch, because the nature of the play means that each performance is completely unique.  This isn’t just because Crouch stars opposite a different actor each night. It’s because each new actor has never read the script or seen the play for themselves before – Crouch simply introduces them to the audience, explains what will happen, makes it clear that they can stop at any time, and begins to guide them through the play.

I knew the premise of new-actor-each-night going in, and I wasn’t at all prepared for the effect it would have. I thought – wrongly – that the magic in this show would be watching an actor work through a complicated and emotionally difficult story as they first read it. The reality is that a new actor each night is just the spark that ignites everything else.

There’s not much I can say about the story without ruining everything, but I can say that the real draw for me was seeing Crouch masterfully create an intense, complex, completely immersive play that, by the end, leaves you in a state where you wouldn’t question anything he was telling you – even when he asks you to believe that a plastic orange chair is a freezing, grieving little girl. It is unnerving even in the audience, seeing how the actor (who we know only as Nicole) is manipulated and pulled through the play, but Crouch is so kind and careful as he slips out of character to give stage directions and instructions that it feels like we are on her side, dragged along with her, rather than watching her go through something alone.

In different hands, the whole thing could have seemed almost cruel, but Crouch masterfully keeps a hold of it all, dolling out encouragement and support to his actor while driving her to extreme places.

It is such a unique experience, and there are inevitably moments – particularly in the beginning – when it feels slightly awkward as the actor gets to grips with what they’ll be doing, but it doesn’t take long to take off, and when it does, it’s like watching an hour long magic trick. Crouch uses every single thing he gets in the room, pulling constantly from the actor, from the audience, even from that initial awkwardness to construct something that is exhilarating, and just the right side of impenetrable. This is a labyrinth of a show.

Reviewer: KJ Ewan

Reviewed: 5th August 2023

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.