New Critical Voices: Hannah Doherty-Greene
Truth’s a Dog Must to Kennel by Tim Crouch. Image Amy Gibson
Critical conversations require critical voices. In an effort to encourage new voices, following a Critical Workshop in UCD I invited students to submit their reviews, with the one I deemed best given an opportunity to review a production for The Arts Review. I’m thrilled to introduce Hannah Doherty-Greene who reviews Tim Crouch's Truth’s a Dog Must to Kennel
Bare Stage. House lights on. King Lear’s VR clad Fool analyses and admonishes his audience, then assembles their imaginations into vivid visions. This is Truth’s a Dog Must to Kennel by Tim Crouch. Written and performed by Crouch and directed by Karl James and Andy Smith, we meet The Fool, having moved from his play into our universe. The performance moves between modes of stand up, storytelling and sarcastic fact-stating, shifting settings between our world and an imaginary, VR viewed staging of King Lear. We gaze into its production and the minds of its audience, getting a glimpse of our own in the process. With so much going on, things can get a little hard to follow, but this performance is worth the post-show unpacking.
Non-representational staging and a costume of regular, gray clothing leaves the shouldering of audience engagement and enjoyment to their own imagination and to Crouch. Across all modes he delivers a stellar performance. He is consistently engaging, with fine tuned facial expression and delivery. As the standup comedian with his standing mic and tripod stool, Crouch as Fool doles out pointed humour with killing blow punchlines uncomfortably prodding the faults of his audience and their world, much like his Shakespearian counterpart. When VR helmed and recounting King Lear’s on and off-stage drama, Crouch appeals to the audience's imagination, asking them to see what he sees with their ears. He supports these requests with captivating storytelling skill that conjures immersive, moving images. You’re left squeamish at the blinding of Gloucester, so horrifically and emotionally rendered, though nothing’s there.
What stitches together this movement between modes and settings is a persistent critique of the state of theatre, live and digital. VR staging a vehicle through which Crouch critiques the economic barriers casting artists out of their professions and limiting live theatre access to the wealthy. He pokes fun at the high-paying, private school attending, platinum club patrons, naming and shaming the eye-watering prices paid for their attendance, with real-world attendees standing in as his targets. His standup pronounces the death of theatre, highlights the mid-lockdown call for British artists to migrate to different job sectors and touches on disability access. He mocks theatre's pathetic inaccessibility, begging for death in the face of it. A humorous performer, Crouch’s naming and shaming led to plentiful laughter, his well engineered script pouncing on its audience. Highlighting laughter as a release of tension, Crouch opened up space for its interplay with silence to be interrogated. What’s so funny about money? Why are we so tense? Why the sudden, self-conscious silence as the Fool begs for death?
Crouch asserts the audience’s importance to live theatre, critiquing digital theatre for their absence. This live demonstration of an audience’s effect on a performance, emphasized by Smock Alley’s rounded seating which let us all have a good gawk at each other, backed up these critiques. However, mere presence isn’t good enough. Crouch points out the disengaged viewership of his imagined audience and highlights that our attachment to theatre etiquette is stifling a real, interruptive interaction that enhances the performance experience. He narrates a fictional woman’s outburst during the blinding of Gloucester, disturbed and engaged as she shouts toward the stage. Her interaction is framed as a moment of euphoria for theatre, emphasised by a swell of violins and Crouch stretching out his hands to her imagined figure. This moving moment is sadly broken by an Usher, paid to enforce the status quo.
The play is not without its weaker moments. The VR headset seems extraneous. From its centrality in promotional materials, you could expect it to play a crucial role in Crouch’s critique of digital theatre, but this failed to resonate on stage. It functions more as a marker, telling us which world we are looking into. Expectations that critique would branch out into wider societal issues are unmet. The play engages very briefly with the housing crisis. One of the more entertaining stand up routines abruptly dissolves into a comment on the royal family, feeling very out of place in this interrogation of theatre. These challenges aside, Truth’s a Dog Must to Kennel remains both a humour-filled, beautiful and vivid exercise in imagination and a repeated inquisitive jab at the stuffy and elite state of theatre that's well worth all the ear-seeing.
Hannah Doherty-Greene is an experimental poet, writer and someday zine-maker with a strong interest in experimental art and theatre. She is a recent graduate of English with Creative Writing at UCD.
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.