Fringe preview: An Oak Tree
Tim Crouch's play, which is different every night, marks its tenth anniversary
This article is from 2015.
Ten years ago, Tim Crouch first presented An Oak Tree at the Traverse during the Edinburgh Fringe. A play for two actors – one of whom will not have seen the script before the performance – An Oak Tree combines a subtle, moving tale of grief and redemption with a dynamic experiment in form.
The story – the meeting between a hypnotist who killed a young girl in a road accident and the father of his victim – is told by Crouch and a new actor in every performance. Crouch's role – as writer, the hypnotist and a sort of on-stage director – guides both the audience and the second actor through difficult emotional experiences.
The titular oak tree, which the father insists has become his daughter, provided the foundation for Crouch's script. 'The inspiration is a work of art called An Oak Tree by Michael Craig-Martin, made in 1973,' he says. 'A glass of water transformed into an oak tree through a provocatively simple process of nomination. I say this thing is something else and, by saying it, it becomes that something else.' From this simple idea, Crouch considered how the subconscious mind – and hypnotism – could shift perspectives, creating transformations of mundane objects into meaningful symbols.
The use of the second actor, who is experiencing the play for the first time, adds an uneasy tension to the performance. 'I’d like to think that the device of the second actor has something of the spirit of the Fringe about it – a freedom and an experimentation,' says Crouch. 'The second actor is like the audience’s avatar - they discover the play at the same time as the audience. This is, I hope, an empowering experience for the audience.'
Yet An Oak Tree is no empty experiment. The subject – the death of a child – is emotive but Crouch's distinctive relaxed on-stage presence brings a warmth and compassion to the unfolding drama. 'With the heart engaged, it’s much easier to take the head on a ride,' he says. 'In An Oak Tree, there is an emotional core to the play that can take an audience by surprise.' With the play having won an Obie, and become a perennial favourite around the world in the past decade, its revival at the Traverse shows that Crouch's fusion of emotion and intellect can still pack a punch.
An Oak Tree, Traverse, 228 1404, 9–16 Aug (not 10), times vary, £20 (£8–£15). Previews 4, 8 Aug, £14 (£8).