It’s been ten years since Tim Crouch disassembled theatre with his play An Oak Tree. Since its debut at the Traverse in 2005, Crouch has performed it over 300 times, with 300 different actors. Because, aside from Crouch himself, the only other part is played by a new performer who has never seen or read the play before (for this performance, Sharon Duncan-Brewster).
On the surface, it’s a play about a father whose daughter has been killed, and a hypnotist who killed her. Crouch directs Duncan-Brewster as he goes, with scripts and through earphones. On one level there is the story, which we’re told happens a year from now. But on another level there is the performance of Crouch and Duncan-Brewster, who are both acting out the script that Crouch has written. As the two layers begin to blur, it becomes increasingly difficult to tell when Duncan-Brewster is playing the father and when she is playing herself.
The play switches constantly between affirmation and denial of the reality of the situation. In theatre, both audience and actors are complicit in the illusion. They could do anything – clap in the wrong place, go off script – but they don’t. Crouch questions why we are so willing to believe or to suspend disbelief, to feel the grief of the father and the pain of the hypnotist. He is forcing the spell to break at every turn, but it won’t.
By exposing and expanding certain cracks in the mask of theatre, Crouch has created a bewitching piece that keeps us asking how and why we’re being bewitched.