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Adler and Gibb

Tim Crouch
Royal Court Theatre Downstairs

Denise Gough (Louise) Credit: Johan Persson
Beatrice Playfoot-Orme, Denise Gough (Louise), Joseph Sutton, Brian Ferguson (Sam) Credit: Johan Persson
Denise Gough (Louise) and Brian Ferguson (Sam) Credit: Johan Persson

Tim Crouch likes nothing better than to confound his audiences. Frequently, he has required them to make full use of their imaginations to people his plays, fill empty stages or view random objects as something completely different.

His last play for the Royal Court, The Author went even further into the mists of metatheatricality.

So distinctive is the Crouch style that at times during Adler and Gibb he is almost in danger of self-parody.

This is particularly apparent during the early scenes, which draw upon the playwright's favoured themes and methods of delivery.

The evening opens in 2004 as an American student presents her thesis to academics who will decide on her future.

She continues intermittently throughout the 2-hour running time, becoming increasingly tense as her fates about to be decided.

The nervous young woman's topic is the hidden life of that obscure artist Janet Adler, who had passed away the year before. Periodically, to illuminate her tale, our guide calls up illustrative slides.

These are played out on a bare stage with backstage staff visible by three other actors, assisted by a pair of significantly under-aged stage hands.

The first tableau sees Brian Ferguson and Denise Gough in their bland undies pretending to be Sam and Louise, the moving forces behind a movie biopic of Miss Adler and her muse / lover Margaret Gibb.

They try to recreate the events that led to the artist's early death, the initial artificiality giving way to more realistic story-telling as the evening develops.

This follows a visit in the current day by actress Louise and her coach Sam to the spooky, derelict house that was once the home of Adler and Gibb, as they research the story behind what they hope will be as truthful and insightful a movie as Hollywood has ever produced.

Before they gather enough material, all manner of unusual occurrences take place, including the appearance of Amelda Brown as the bereft partner previously presumed dead, complete with an iconic pooch.

The intention of Tim Crouch, who directs his own play, appears to be to show the collision of avant-garde art and populist film in an obscure, ironic, post-modern style.

Even more ironically, the most successful element of his creation is the screwball comedy that will appeal to those whom he is attempting to satirise.

Thanks to the sterling efforts of Brian Ferguson and Denise Gough, Adler and Gibb eventually makes reasonable sense and should provoke debate about the nature of art.

However, many viewers may feel that for much of the evening they are being manipulated in some strange meta-theatrical game rather than being treated as an audience invited along to be informed and perhaps even entertained. There is little doubt that such a judgement is accurate.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher