12 October 2008

An Oak Tree

MIAF 2008
An Oak Tree
Melbourne International Arts Festival

12 October 2008
Fairfax Studio, the Arts Centre

If you are an actor who has been asked to perform in An Oak Tree and are googling for some clues about it, go away now and please don’t read anything about it. Just say ‘yes please’ and do the show, because it will be an unforgettable experience for you and everyone who sees it.

I could become addicted to An Oak Tree, and I’ve only seen it once. Process and story blend in a heart-wrenching tale of grief, guilt and suggestion that simultaneously draws us in and pushes us away – reminding us that we are merely watching a story whose outcome is known and controlled, but whose emotion is still being created before us.

An Oak Tree is a two hander, with the author (Tim Crouch) playing a stage hypnotist who was involved in a fatal car accident. The second role is always played by a guest actor, who has neither read nor seen the script and only meets Crouch an hour before the show. This performer is instructed by Crouch directly, through an earpiece and from pieces of written script.  The likes of F Murray Abraham, Laurie Anderson, Frances McDormand, Mike Myers and Tim McInnery are among the 200-plus actors who have performed with Crouch. Melbourne saw Jane Turner, Geoffrey Rush, Julia Zemiro and Kym Gyngell. I saw the wonderful Julia.

Zemiro is by far one of the best improvisers around and it was fascinating to watch her let go of her expectations and not improvise. For all its unknowns, Crouch never lets the second performer feel out of control. They have a lot of freedom in how they perform and react, but they have no control over the story or the structure of this remarkable work. Zemiro was amazing. It was beautiful to watch her initial fearful excitement disappear, as she put herself in Crouch’s hands and created a darkly funny and surprisingly emotional performance.

Crouch’s complex story (and the story within the story) allows for a myriad of responses and I can’t imagine that any two performers would be able to interpret and perform it in even similar ways. Just seeing one performance was an astonishing experience; so performing this with so many different actors must be almost mind-blowing for Crouch.

I saw Chunky Move’s Two Faced Bastard the day before An Oak Tree. Although very different shows they both directly address the duality of performance and performer. Whereby I only saw obvious questions in the first piece, Crouch’s quietly screamed to me everything I have ever dreamt of understanding about the process of writing and story and how to create authentic emotional realism on a stage. It’s simply fucking brilliant.

This review appeared on AussieTheatre.com

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