Writers: Tim Crouch and Andy Smith
Director: Karl James
Reviewer: Cormac O’Brien
Ever since his breakthrough play, My Arm in 2002, Tim Crouch has pushed the boundaries of theatre making. Crouch’s work constantly raises probing questions about what theatre is for and why we go to it, delving deep into that complex relationship between the theatrical creation of meaning and the audience’s understanding of that meaning. What Happens to the Hope at the End of the Evening takes these questions a step further by inviting the audience to take responsibility for the ways in which they understand the theatre event, and thus, by extension, their own everyday living.
For this show, Crouch is joined by Andy Smith as both co-writer and co-performer. As well as working on and off with Crouch over the years, Smith has his own separate career as an innovative theatre maker, in a style and aesthetic quite different to Crouch – and the combination of the two makes for an evening of social importance.
The premise couldn’t be simpler: two old friends meet after a long time apart and painfully realise that their friendship is over.
But really, so much more is going on, on so very many levels.
This play, the audience learns, is not only a searing critique of the how the dog-and-pony show of current Western politics disenfranchises the ordinary citizen to the point of invisibility. It is also a jumping off point into a new way of thinking about what it means to be one of many: one of many watching two men on stage while trying to make sense of why you are there: one of many in a Europe torn apart by austerity and cutbacks: one of many in a society where the very meanings of that word ‘society’ have been changed irrevocably by thirty-five years of free-market capitalism selling us the trope of individual freedom to the point where the individual is all that matters.
It’s hard to understand how a sixty-minute show can have such a hard-hitting impact. Perhaps it’s a shrewd blend of fiction and reality, itself a critique of how, in our hyper-consumerist worlds, we buy, and buy into, so many market-driven tropes of identity. Crouch’s character is fictional and, by his own admission in the post-show discussion, based on several people he used to know and is quite glad are gone from his life. Smith, on the other hand, plays himself; his narrative and backstory are based on his own life. And it is this meeting point between the real and the not so real that drives home the show’s message: that the personal is always political. But what’s really exciting about this meeting point is this new way of thinking – about performance, about politics, and about the meanings we ascribe to those things – that Smith and Crouch incite in us. Here, then, is a new way of seeing, of understanding, of doing theatre. ‘Just being here is radical’, Smith tells the audience. And that never felt truer than it did in the Peacock last night.
In a show where the words ‘government’ or ‘politics’ are hardly if ever uttered, this is political theatre at its best. And that’s no mean feat.
Photo courtesy of the Dublin Theatre Festival. Runs until October 4th.