Adler and Gibb - Royal court Theatre

Royal Court Theatre – Adler & Gibb: an experimental journey

It’s worth hanging on until the end of this experimental new play, by Tim Crouch, which examines the idea that “an artist or artefact represents the culture in which it was produced.” A number of different stages of performance operate in tandem: with an obsessed student (Rachel Redford) presenting a thesis on two Warhol-esque artists (the said Adler and Gibb of the title); an actress (the student’s later self) preparing for a movie about the same artists; and some children in headphones – on stage throughout – being intermittently directed by “a live voice they hear through their headphones” to hand out props and the like.  Sound complicated? It is, and the decision to have the actress, played by Denise Gough, and her coach, Brian Ferguson, rooted to the spot delivering most of the play out to the audience doesn’t help to engage understanding or sympathy. Moreover, the physical dissimilarity between Gough and Redford and the range of accents delivered baffles rather than enlightens. As the story creeps forward, the decision to focus on the forensic side of creating art rather than the dramatic side of presenting it seems to be an erroneous one.

But the temptation to dismiss the piece as workshop self-indulgence dissipates as a clever build in the narrative and some sharp stagecraft help to shape an impressive conclusion.  By the end, some kind of trick has happened and a successful piece of theatre has been achieved. Whether you care for the trick probably depends on your feelings for modernist art – i.e. does art that challenges the conventions of art float your boat?

The well balanced cast stick to their task with some commitment – which, taking into account the performance impediments placed upon them – does them credit. Gough certainly captures the unhealthy psychology of an individual seeking fulfilment in the life of another, while Amelda Brown’s Gibb has the right measure of maturity and courage. The inherent difficulties of performance style make it hard to convey much depth and continuity of characterisation, but somehow the innate charisma possessed by the actors helps to achieve a sense of reality. The only caveat is that when it comes to the long monologues, the fragmented, un-dramatic structure hasn’t served to build the customary link between audience and character.  And as a result, interest in what is being said is more tenuous.

And what is being said? Certain themes appear to be evident: the innocence of the artist, the inherent incompatibility between artist and society, the mercenary nature of those seeking to cash in on artistic success. Ultimately there is a sense that the artist’s work is not actually about form or content or creation, but rather the vision to see things differently from the norm. And it is this ability, this singularity that partly accounts for the obsessive interest in artist rather than art – an obsession the artist can only escape through death. But as this interesting piece draws to its close and the theatrical canvass is suddenly displaced with a potent cinematic one, even death doesn’t always mark the end of the affair.

Running until 5th July at the Royal Court Theatre, Sloane Square,  London    SW1W 8AS

Box Office +44 (0)20 7565 5000

Paul McLachlan

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