Dublin Theatre Festival 2023: Truth’s a Dog Must to Kennel
Tim Crouch in Truth’s a Dog Must to Kennel. Image uncredited
Drama and comedy have an enduring relationship. Drama and Stand Up less so. Even as Stand-Up comics resemble dramatic fools whose humour allows them to say the unsayable. Like The Fool in King Lear, who features heavily in Tim Crouch’s 2022 solo work Truth’s a Dog Must to Kennel. Where a virtual reality visor serves as a less than persuasive device for conjuring The Fool back into the play he left. Allowing Crouch meditate on the failings of modern society and his fears for the future of theatre.
It a simple conceit. Looking like Batman’s Bane with Night Vision Goggles, Crouch prowls the empty stage wearing a VR visor he admits doesn’t work. Like a lost Gamer, he points at the audience as he conjures the venue in which the reimagined King Lear is being performed. The first of his concerns evident in everyone being reduced to a ticket price, a theatre package, participants in a commodified exchange. Money and left wing, liberal values theatre’s driving force, and driving it into the ground. Facing towards the back wall he conjures the stage: Act Three of King Lear is underway. Language from inside the visor minimal, economic. Words like fingers pointing in the general direction of general images. Crouch urging us to see through hearing, to fill in the imaginative picture. Meaning we're never quite seeing what Crouch sees: the conjuring is all about ourselves.
As Crouch slips in and out of the mask, Pippa Murphy’s atmospheric score falls silent once the mask is removed. Crouch seeming to navigate two realities, the real and the imagined. A third when he takes a microphone and begins his stand-up routines, speaking directly to the audience. But it’s all the one performative reality, the stage and script make sure of that. Theatre’s common trappings something Crouch pushes against only to reinforce for needing them as scaffolding. Crouch’s stand-up proving a hit and miss affair. His short jokes clever, his long jokes lacking a compelling punchline. Comedy, like boxing, being all about timing. Crouch jabbing with the best of them in jokes like the Genie and three wishes, or the family at a talent show. Yet when it comes to landing that knockout punchline the first feels like a cheap shot, or even a low blow, the second flies wide and barely clips your ear. In both cases the audience’s involvement is undermined by the author’s intention nailing meaning to the ground. So much for doing the work ourselves. Collective imagining ending in conclusions already reached, the range of interpretive possibilities lost to a narrow given, metaphor meaning one thing only. We may be gathered together, but we’re gathered around Crouch.
What follows is essentially rinse and repeat. VR headset monologues alternating with Stand-Up routines. Until the end, where the distinction blurs, Murphy’s score emphasising the new relationship. Echoes of Brecht’s Street Scene as imagining someone fall sick sees us checking our responses to the different realities of live theatre and life lived. Each person hearing everything in their own way. Yet it’s never direct speech, even when it aspires to seeming so. Always it’s theatre at its most basic: at least one person performing in a space to at least one other person. Crouch unpacking the riches buried in all those terms, and finding theatre's creative coffers looking a little bear right now. Digitial theatre compounding the matter, sounding like a death knell. Art as a vehicle for change having failed. But it has always failed. Since Auschwitz we’ve known that with certainty. Why would you want to do this any more? Maybe because it’s all about failing better.
Behind its mild mannered pace and generally good natured humour, Truth’s a Dog Must to Kennel gives a serious kicking to society and the current state of theatre. Comedy the velvet glove to make the blows a little less painful. Yet while fear for the death of theatre provides serious food for thought, the whole sees Crouch resembling a grumpy old man nostalgic for a future that never arrived. The recent debate surrounding AI highlighting how much the debate on technology and the arts has moved on from discussions on VR. Which sounds trapped within the long enough ago nightmare of living through COVID screens. Crouch might identify with the Fool, but the longer Truth’s a Dog Must to Kennel goes on the more he resembles Lear raging against the storm. The storm howling, indifferent, risking Lear looking like a fool lost to his own concerns. The wise Fool having already left the building. Still, Crouch’s thought provoking plays are packed with intelligence, integrity and insight, and the same holds true of Truth’s a Dog Must to Kennel. Even when he misses the mark, Crouch still finds a target. And he isn’t half bad at the short form joke.
Truth’s a Dog Must to Kennel by Tim Crouch, runs at Smock Alley Theatre as part of Dublin Theatre Festival 2023 until October 14.