mon 03/10/2022

Edinburgh Fringe 2022 reviews: Every Word was Once an Animal / Tim Crouch: Truth’s a Dog Must to Kennel | reviews, news & interviews

Edinburgh Fringe 2022 reviews: Every Word was Once an Animal / Tim Crouch: Truth’s a Dog Must to Kennel

Edinburgh Fringe 2022 reviews: Every Word was Once an Animal / Tim Crouch: Truth’s a Dog Must to Kennel

Theatre about theatre? There's plenty of it at the Fringe: here are two fine examples

Bastiaan Vandendriessche in Ontroerend Goed's Every Word was Once an AnimalMirjam Devriendt

Every Word was Once an Animal, Zoo Southside

Ghent-based theatre company Ontroerend Goed have been prodding and provoking Fringe audiences for years, sometimes forcefully – as in 2001’s controversial, confrontational, crowd-baiting Audience – or more gently, as in 2019’s creation/destruction climate-change palindrome Are we not drawn onwards to new erA.

The Covid pandemic is the unspoken issue hovering behind their 2022 show, on which they collaborate with fellow Fringe veteran Shôn Dale Jones. Their intended premiere of 5 April (presumably 2020, though it’s never spelt out) didn’t take place – well, everyone was at home. In memory, however, they’ve decided to re-enact the non-event, describing in elaborate, increasingly confusing detail what might have happened, the good bits, the bits that still needed work, even the (fictitious) audience reactions from years after an event that didn’t take place anyway.

In many ways, Every Word Was Once an Animal is pretty standard meta-theatrical stuff, a show that draws attention to its own workings and artifice by dragging out its innards, or even contemplating the possibilities of what might have been. That said, there’s a thread of melancholy running through the work that sets it apart, with lost brothers, mistaken identities, unanswered questions from audiences, all of which add to a general sense of uncertainty, and a growing question of whether any of it really matters anyway. It is indeed all very confusing, as the five-strong performance team accept, to the extent that actor Bastiaan steps forward at one point to offer us strong, clear, trustworthy leadership. If the show suddenly seems to be heading into more focused territory, even that proves just as ephemeral as everything else.

It’s a tricksy show from a tricksy company, one that plays with theatrical conventions to bewildering, frustrating and often entertaining effect. And though there’s a certain smug self-satisfaction to Ontroerend Goed’s elusiveness, at the end of the day, they seem to be just as lost as the rest of us.

Tim Crouch: Truth’s a Dog Must to Kennel, Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh Studio

Where does a character go when they leave the stage? No, not an actor – a character. Take the Fool in King Lear, for example. He’s there with Lear on the blasted heath in Act II, but we don’t see him after that. Where does he disappear to?

In Truth’s a Dog Must to Kennel by Tim Crouch (pictured above, picture by Stuart Armitt), he’s in the Studio space of Edinburgh’s Lyceum Theatre, watching the rest of the performance of King Lear that he’s just left on a VR headset – actors, audience members and everything else. And, Crouch seems to suggest, with the country teetering towards civil war, an increasingly psychotic monarch, torture and killings, and all of this chaos seeming to have erupted from nowhere, the Fool might have made the right decision to head off while he still could.

Crouch is a seasoned Edinburgh Fringe performer, with a proud track record of teasing and provoking audiences with his multi-layered, often elusive works that question the theatrical process itself – he signposts the artificiality of his current show too, for that matter. But in Truth’s a Dog Must to Kennel, he seems to stare unflinchingly into the darkness, finding some bitter humour there, but also questioning whether it’s even right to hold onto hope. Indeed, Truth’s a Dog Must to Kennel is a pretty uncompromising, hopeless piece in many ways: Crouch points to parallels between Lear’s fractured world and our own many and varied contemporary problems, and even casts himself forward to future anthropologists who might wonder why people once gathered in rooms together, like we all have, to watch other people pretend to be yet other people. But then, if we had a magic lamp and transformed ourselves into a perfect society of communitarian, Guardian-reading empaths, would it be any more bearable?

Truth’s a Dog Must to Kennel is often difficult to fathom, and sometimes patience-testing. But it’s a measure of Crouch’s power as a performer that he holds the attention alone on the stage, apart from a VR headset and a lone mic stand. And that he keeps us with him through his sometimes extended explorations of deliberately unfunny stand-up, or observations on the minutiae of audience behaviour and the politics of seating in a theatre. It’s a slow-moving, deliberate show, broken up by Pippa Murphy’s elegantly shifting soundscapes. But it generates an immense cumulative power, raising profound questions while refusing to offer easy answers.

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