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Adler & Gibb returns to the London Stage: Jesse Stanley talks to Writer & Director Tim Crouch about the Show

[Image: Tim Crouch, photo by Richard Lakos]

Tim Crouch has built a name for himself as one of British drama’s great innovators. He defys a conventional 'role', choosing rather to write, direct and perform in plays that disturb and challenge a passive theatrical experience. Crouch’s work is fuelled by the impulse to explore both story and form, often culminating in an unexpected marriage of a carefully developed narrative that simultaneously questions the convention of that very narrative (difficult to describe, better to see!). Professor of Contemporary Theatre & Performance Stephen Bottoms suggests ‘…no other contemporary playwright has asked such a compelling set of questions about theatrical form, narrative content and spectatorial engagement.' I had the pleasure of interviewing Tim by email while he commutes to and from Edinburgh, where Adler & Gibb is currently playing at the International Fringe Festival before moving to Unicorn Theatre in London.

 

Jesse Stanley: You were working primarily as an actor before 2003, what made you decide to start making your own work? 

 

Tim Crouch: If you’ve ever been an actor, maybe you’ll know the answer to that question.  Throughout my thirties i felt increasingly like I was out of control of what I was doing.  I was working - but, by then, working no longer felt synonymous with fulfilment.  It no longer felt like I was engaged in a creative act.  I felt like the ‘me-ness’ of me had no role to play in what I was doing.  In a supposedly expressive art form, the things I was expressing had little to do with what I was thinking.  So it was either do something about it or get out of the pool.

I had no way of knowing if writing would lead anywhere - but it was better than doing nothing.  With writing I was able to speak with my own voice.  I was able to address the frustrations I had been feeling. I was abler to tell the stories I wanted to tell.  I’ve been very lucky to say that, 13 years later, I’m still making my own work.

 

JS: You have a close and longstanding working relationship with Andy Smith and Karl James as collaborators. How would you describe the dynamic between you 3 in a rehearsal room?

 

TC: The three of us have worked together since i started writing An Oak Tree in 2004. We are friends first and foremost.  But we’ve also been having a conversation about the work for 12 years.  Andy is a performance maker.  Karl used to be an actor and director - a long time ago.  None of us are in this for a ‘career’.  We’re in it because we’re fascinated by the ideas - and, as long as it stays that way, I can’t imagine not having them around my work.  We work well in the rehearsal room.  I have taken the lead in Adler & Gibb - but with Karl and Andy as essential sounding boards.  We think together.  It’s not always easy for the actors to have three directors but we try to be explicit about the challenges of that.  We try to be open.  Openness, however, comes with its own challenges.

Andy and I co-wrote and co-perfomed a piece in 2013 - what happens to the hope at the end of the evening. Karl directed us. That show felt particularly sweet.

 

JS: Who are Adler & Gibb?

TC: Firstly, this: http://adlerandgibb.com

Secondly, this: They were two conceptual artists working in New York in the 70s, 80s and 90s. Janet Adler and Margaret Gibb.  Artists and, above that, lovers.  Janet Adler, born in Germany in 1943, moved to New Jersey when she was 15 and studied art.  Gibb was a political science student when they met in 1976.  They made work together and for each other. They became deeply disillusioned with the contemporary art world and escaped it at the end of the Twentieth Century. They left to live in peace and privacy in a house they had built in the middle of nowhere.  Janet Adler died in 2003 and Margaret Gibb disappeared off the radar.  The value of their work rose exponentially after Adler’s death and, ten years later, a film is being made about her. 

The play, Adler & Gibb, tracks their work but also tells the story of what happened to them after they attempted to withdraw from the public eye.  The form of the play is a nod to their life and work - a conceptual form that gets hi-jacked by a traditional form.

 

JS: The play is in its 2nd incarnation now (having had a successful run at the Royal Court in 2014). How has the piece evolved beyond a change of cast?

 

TC: The play was bigger two years ago - physically bigger. We had the main stage of the Royal Court to fill and I, naively, thought that I ought to fill it with stuff!  The play two years ago was full of flourishes - lovely conceits and serifs and curlicues.  We had a real dog come on stage.  We had a large set (by my standards) that was really only to support one moment in the play.  We had an interval!  The air of that production was fizzing with stuff - but i felt that the core story got lost.  So this time I have simplified. Some people may miss the fizz - but I think there is fizz enough.

We have reduced the ‘cast’.  In 2014 there were two children who functioned as the four of the play.  Now there is only one.  An 8 year old girl whose presence acts as a foil to the unnatural naturalism of the adult characters.

[Photo credit: Richard Lakos]

JS: You have been known to play with disrupted narrative in the theatre and an interest in trying to find a theatrical 'form' that is compatible with the particular story that you are trying to tell. Can you expand on this proposition a bit more?

 

TC: I think I know what you mean by ‘disrupted narrative’.  I suppose it means that I draw people’s attention to the fact a story is being told and the mechanics by which that story is being told.  I would not, however, suggest that this has the effect of disrupting narrative - but rather enforcing it.  Or, even, it adds a second story to the original story.  

The dialogue between form and content is central to the development of any play I write. There is an interplay to how the story develops in tandem with the form.  In Adler & Gibb both are intricately intertwined.  The form travels towards a 'reality’ as the actor in the story travels towards a ‘reality’.  

 

JS: There are arguable a lot of themes being explored in Adler & Gibb. If you had to distill them down to 3, what would you say are the biggest questions you are posing to the audience?

 

TC: Nature.  Capitalism.  Love.  

Nature comes first.  There is a repeated refrain in the play about ‘letting the nature in’.  One critique in the play is about our culture’s determination to keep things alive beyond their natural span.  The actor in the play describes what she is doing as a ‘resurrection’.  Adler & Gibb, however, had no desire to be resurrected.  I could talk at length about the idea of nature in the play - present in the girl, in the house, in the dog, in the deer, in the work.  Theatre, for me, is a transient art form that dies after each performance.  It’s a ‘natural’ form - or should be if we kept the commercialism away from it. (cf. capitalism)

Love.  This is a love story between two women who became their own audience for their work.  It’s an intensely private love that flies in the face of the public love so demanded by our culture.  

Perhaps the play has too many themes - and some people skim the surface of it. That’s okay, too.

[Photo credit Richard Lakos]

JS: The Unicorn tends to program shows for a younger audience. What made you decide on this location for Adler & Gibb's London remount? 

 

TC: This play is about play and the art of play.  It's about people pretending to be other people.  It's about the possibility of art. I think we are all artists. From the moment we can reflect on our existence.  But somewhere along the line our artistry gets co-opted and corrupted by the grown-ups.  It gets standardised and tested and graded and rated and it becomes exclusive and commercialised and compromised.  I have a child on stage in Adler & Gibb.  Some people have described that child as a ‘stage manager’ in the show.  But she is nothing like that.  She presents a different model of being. A different idea of creativity.  There are four generations of women in Adler & Gibb - the girl, the student, the actor and the artist.  I think it’s brilliant that it’s going to be at the Unicorn.  The Unicorn is not only a theatre for young people - it is also about young people.  Their place in the world.  The influences exerted on them.  We have out 8 year old girl sit and watch the behaviour of the adults.  She sits and watches the film that plays at the end.  She sits and watches the actor receive her award - the actor ‘win’, the dominant culture triumph. It feels absolutely right to be in the theatre that takes children seriously.

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Adler & Gibb runs at Unicorn Theatre from August 31st through Sept 2nd.

SPECIAL £10 TICKETS OFFER FOR RUN RIOT READERS

Get the best available seats for £10. Use promo code RIOTAG at checkout or over the phone. Applies to all Adult ticket types only.

 

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