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July 11, 2011 | by  | in Theatre |
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An Oak Tree

Circa’s most recent leap into the avant garde, Tim Crouch’s An Oak Tree, tells the tale of…well… quite a lot. Hidden under the clever guise of a wish-washy stand up routine a year from today, ‘the HYPNOTIST’, as we are informed in the program, will unleash his powers upon ‘the FATHER’ on a journey to self discovery, self recovery, and plenty more of that other self usually associated with gag-like public hypnotism. So it’s a play about discovery, hypnosis, me and you, knowing and not knowing etc etc. But there’s a clever wee catch. Each night the role of the father is played by a different ‘GUEST ACTOR’, who, having done no previous work on the play itself, wholly relies on the information he/she is given over the course of the evening to uncover some semblance of a plot.

Tim Spite plays the charismatic, if a trifle malicious, Hypnotist who contorts both actor and audience to his will. His ease and charm on stage is a testament to sheer stamina, as he lassoes his comrade in and out of varying states of ‘hypnosis’. For sure, Spite’s unfailing control of the performance overall lends a potentially hazardous situation much needed grace. The only flaw in the role seems that for all his charm, the Hypnotist never becomes a likeable persona, hindering our capacity for empathy, upon which much of the conclusion rests. Nevertheless, the jokes are sharp and the – sometime indulgent – text is delivered with alacrity.

Naturally, as each night has a different actor assigned to play the Father, the performance is bound to change, and effect one’s perception of the evening. Regardless, the actor on the evening unfortunately seemed too cautious to be wholly occupied in his instruction.

Circa Two’s more intimate stage is well suited to the play, whilst Andrew Foster’s direction is crisp and clean; picturesque words and aesthetic meet when Father embraces ‘the oak tree’, embodied by an elegant piano stool. The evening makes few attempts at visual dynamics, a compliment to the prowess of the performers – both rehearsed and otherwise.

Every theorists dream, this play deals with the illusion of actors to an audience, characters to an audience, actors to actors, and characters to characters. An actor relies on another actor so that their characters can perform actions – creating a sort of pseudo hypnosis in itself, as one party depends upon the instructions of another. As the youth whispered behind me: ‘Woah. Mind fuck.’ In all honesty I found the entire situation somewhat too contrived to appear much more then a clever idea, but I suppose that’s where the laurels rest: what I perceive to be my reality may not be the metal of yours.

An Oak Tree
By Tim Crouch
02—30 July at Circa Two

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