In his new Fringe piece, this acclaimed director, writer and performer uses King Lear’s Fool to examine the crisis in contemporary theatre
Tim Crouch is a rare performer and creator, who balances the demands of rigorous experimentation with a sensitivity to accessibility. Although he consistently explores imaginative ways of presenting drama and grapples with intense and serious matters, he ensures that each work is approachable, making the audience comfortable even as he leads them into difficult territory. Most recently, he has reimagined various characters from Shakespeare, giving voice to those whom he felt ‘didn’t get to tell their story’ in the Bard’s familiar scripts.
While Truth’s A Dog Must To Kennel appears to share much with Crouch’s Shakespeare plays, he insists that using King Lear’s Fool as a focus makes this one unconnected to them. ‘They were very much for a younger audience and had an almost pedagogic purpose. I didn’t want to extend that series.’ Instead, he’s observed similarities between the contemporary world and that of Lear (‘it is corrupt, abusive and violent’) and reflects on the pandemic’s impact on the specific experience and nature of theatre.
Crouch’s style is often soft-spoken and warm, yet he refuses to flinch from intellectual seriousness. ‘I’m using the play King Lear, to some degree, as a representative of theatre. The main thrust of this piece is the question of where we are with our form.’ Having broken down barriers between audience and performer, encouraged audiences to read along with the script, and reconstructed Shakespeare in past productions, Crouch’s fascination with structure and presentation is simultaneously respectful and subversive. In his new work, he probes a threat to the very foundations of theatre.
‘There has been an existential breakdown since March 2020 around live performance and around the very idea of making a piece of theatre in the ongoing fall-out from the decimation of liveness and the digital pile-on,’ he says, leading him to ask, ‘where do I see my form existing as an analogue theatre-maker?’
His answer comes with a commentary on the Fool’s disappearance from King Lear where he slips out of the play between scenes. Crouch offers a meditation on the relationship between live performance and digital recreation, while a series of stand-up style routines ponder the meaning and purpose of theatre in an age of streaming, social distancing and political chaos. ‘It’s an anthropological investigation of the end of our form, of how people used to be together and breathe the same air, which is now under a challenge.’
Tim Crouch: Truth’s A Dog Must To Kennel, Lyceum Theatre, 6 & 7 August, 8pm, 9–28 August, 8.15pm.