Following its run at the Royal Court in London, Tim Crouch’s play reflects on our modern-day obsession with artists’ lives and how this interferes with and indeed obscures our engagement with their work. It is simultaneously an interrogation of theatrical form, creating a stimulating and innovative play whose self-reflexivity occasionally inhibits the audience’s ability to fully connect with the characters onstage.
The play actively resists narrative convention, so that for most of the first half the audience has little idea what is going on
The story they are telling is that of deceased, fictive conceptual artist Janet Adler and her long-time partner Margaret Gibb, partly through the lens of a young student, Louise, giving a presentation of her thesis, and partly through the exploits of an actress carrying out research for her role as Adler in an upcoming biopic. Both lines of the plot involve the invasion of a life and a legacy. Attaching this simplistic synopsis is, however, problematic as the play actively resists narrative convention, so that for most of the first half the audience has little idea what is going on.
This production focuses attention on the form itself, making its theatricality visible at every turn. Each day the performance features a different eight-year-old child acting as stage manager: wearing headphones through which they receive their instructions, the child supplies props to the actors, fixes up special effects and even fills in for various animals. This is interesting to watch, although sometimes a little distracting.
All the actors pack a punch, growing into their roles and carefully treading the line between the serious and ironic aspects of the play. Their static interactions are witty and fast-paced. The last third of the action is gripping, but the play lags at the beginning and the end, when a diversion into film again brings the show’s formal concerns to the fore, but hinders the audience’s emotional connection to the play.
Well-acted and interesting in its focus, Adler & Gibb is worth a watch, though a little lacking in heart.