Review: Total Immediate Collective Imminent Terrestrial Salvation

The latest from Tim Crouch is one of those shows that you may find frustrating in the act of watching, but which burrows away in your head afterwards. It demands reflection, and it’s slippery enough to invite your time not just in the theatre but beyond.

In fact, to say that we watch this play is incorrect. We participate in it too, being called upon to read some of the script, which invites comparison to Crouch’s An Oak Tree. We are part of the imaginative act almost as soon as we enter the theatre, sit in two concentric circles like the congregation in a place of worship, and are asked to open a book that includes text written by Crouch and pictures by Rachana Jadhav.

What follows is a story that unfolds in different times and spaces and parallel worlds, and that tells of a family torn apart by a random accident in which the son is killed and the father, Miles, injured. Grief, guilt and loss converge, and years later Miles has become a guru, convinced that at the upcoming eclipse of the sun he and his followers will be transported to a new world where he will be re-united with his dead son. Who are we to disbelieve? After all, we’re people who regularly sit in a theatre and keep the faith that we will believe in the frankly unbelievable.

Cunningly structured so we read along with the script provided for us, the words initially bind us and demand our blind obedience. Even when we turn each page is decided for us. But the pictures tell a different story, and the action on stage and the action unfolding in our own imaginations add layer upon layer. Pippa Murphy’s brilliant sound design adds another rich seam.

There are increasing hints and glitches to suggest that even when we are groping in the dark (tellingly, Miles has banned his followers wearing glasses), deviations from the script are possible. We don’t have to believe everything; we can make a new story. In fact, it’s almost impossible not to in an evening that celebrates the alchemies of theatre.

It’s not as emotionally raw as An Oak Tree, as conceptual as My Arm, or as unsettling as The Author, but it reminds us that Crouch remains one of the UK’s most surprising theatre-makers, one who can both bother and delight.

Total Immediate Collective Imminent Terrestrial Salvation, The Studio, 7-25 Aug, 8pm

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