Monday, 23 June 2014

Theatre review: Adler & Gibb

Artworks and their perceived value tend to be viewed in the light of the artist's life and personality. A certain brand of "method" acting on the other hand claims to put the real personality by the wayside entirely, immersing the actor in their character. Both ideas are present, bringing with them a kind of artistic temperament that edges into the unhinged, in Tim Crouch's Adler & Gibb. In 2004, a year after the mysterious death of modern artist Janet Adler, a student (Rachel Redford) attempts to secure a scholarship to art school with a lecture about Adler and her partner Margaret Gibb. She has a personal reason for her fascination with the pair, but it seems the interviewing panel don't share her enthusiasm.

The lecture alternates with scenes ten years later, when Hollywood actress Louise (Denise Gough) is preparing to play Adler in a biopic. Accompanied by her "acting coach"/lover Sam (Brian Ferguson) she breaks into the artist's dilapidated home in the woods in search of lost diaries, only to find that the forgotten partner Gibb (Amelda Brown) is still alive, and still living there.

Adler & Gibb plays with ideas of art and the often pretentious analysis of its complexities, and offers many complexities of its own. Crouch directs with Karl James and Andy Smith, and they've given the piece an experimental style that is, initially, quite wilfully difficult and unclear. Gough and Ferguson begin their scenes in their underwear declaiming their lines out to the audience, and are gradually dressed, acquiring more naturalistic performance styles along with their clothes (as well as the American accents their characters have, but which the actors only use in the second act.)

The bare stage of the opening scenes is complemented by visible stage-management, including a pair of children (Lily Mace Horan and George Purves) who are instructed through headphones in what to do, and who both manipulate the actors at times, and take on silent roles in the story (the reveals of who or what they've been representing in certain scenes are quite satisfying.) Although unashamedly niche, the production balances out the moments which could alienate audiences with other, blatantly crowd-pleasing touches (like the arrival of a labrador on stage just before the interval.)

The production's first half isn't entirely convincing in its obscurity but it's worth sticking with it after the interval (I spotted the first people to make their escape 25 minutes in) as things are clarified - to an extent, at least - and it is quite rewarding when the pieces start to fall together. It's also rich in memorable visuals (designed by Lizzie Clachan,) including a skull motif that references both Damien Hirst's "For the Love of God" on the conceptual art side, and Yorick's skull on the side of performance. I have a feeling Adler & Gibb won't really find its audience, its thunder as a piece of challenging theatre stolen at the moment by Mr Burns, and this may have been the emptiest I've ever seen the Royal Court Downstairs on a £10 Monday. But it's not quite as alienating as that play is, and deserves a look, its rewards making up for its frustrations.

Adler & Gibb by Tim Crouch is booking until the 5th of July at the Royal Court's Jerwood Theatre Downstairs.

Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes including interval.

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