Writer: Tim Crouch
Director: Karl James
Reviewer: Nicole Evans
Tim Crouch’s My Arm, at face value, is a superbly told intriguing story about a childhood exercise of attention-seeking determination that got out of hand. A first-person monologue of a thirty-something man who has lived most of his life with one arm held above his head to the detriment of his physical health and the of the mental health of many of those around him. The journey of a stubborn, unnoticed, boy who becomes a psychologist’s dream turning into a noticed man who becomes an exploited subject of other people’s success, while never quite finding his own.
Although starting somewhat slowly and awkwardly, Crouch – as the unnamed protagonist – with the help of his fellow ‘cast’ – random objects from the audience’s handbags – eventually reels us in and keeps all attention firmly on him and the tale that unfolds. Leaving us finely balanced on the boundaries of fact and fiction at times, he remains convincing enough to allow us to almost believe in what we are hearing, despite clear evidence that his words contain no truth.
The apparent development of this play since its creation as something more than a great piece of writing and narration is sadly the very factor that lets it down, not helped by the inclusion of an after-show Q&A. Sold as a piece of performance/modern art, the quote Crouch himself writes on a piece of paper part way through sums up the latter very well: “Art is anything you can get away with”. Crouch certainly seems to get away with portraying this play as having far more meaning that it was ever intended to have and turning it into the very thing the play takes a regular pop at – a supposed piece of modern art. The kind of modern art that nobody really understands until it is fully explained to them in a post-exhibition talk, at which point everybody nods, slaps their knees, shares knowing glances with their peers and pretends that’s exactly what they were taking from it during their previous bemused silences.
Despite the criticism of seemingly post-inferred meaning, My Arm still targets a variety of audiences. Whether you wish to simply enjoy a unique, one-man, narrative that is full of expressive story-telling and thought-provoking improvisation, or whether you are an arts student desperate to find the intricately meaningful subject of your next dissertation, it does have something for everyone. Crouch doesn’t fail to get the cogs spinning, and the post-show discussion is guaranteed not to stop at the studio doors with debates as to whether My Arm is a meaningful work of creative genius or the lucky result of a downbeat writer with a great imagination that tries to be cleverer than it needs to be continuing into the night. Enter with an open mind and take from it only what you initially do and you won’t be disappointed.
Runs until 9 February and on tour | Image: Contributed