Tim Crouch and Andy Smith

The best theatre leaves you with a feeling of excitement, thoughtfulness and, in some rare cases, a feeling of loss. Tim Crouch and Andy Smith’s new collaboration as part of the Almeida Festival, with the fashionably wordy title of what happens to hope at the end of the evening, delivers all of the above and more.

The ‘play’, if such a word can be applied to this piece, begins as it means to go on: unconventionally. The pair saunter in from the audience door and take their place on stage. Andy (the intimate nature of the piece seems to necessitate first names) takes a seat on an empty stage next to what turns out to be the script, and removes his shoes. Tim stands awkwardly at his side. Andy pointedly confirms with a member of the Almeida’s staff that “everyone is here who said they would be”, before he begins. This is the first of a number of techniques used to draw attention to the artifice and power of the theatre. Andy takes great pains to look at and involve every member of the audience, surveying us owlishly over his script.

Such an unashamedly academic approach to theatre runs the risk of being dispassionate and cold. Indeed, at the beginning of the performance, one gets the distinct impression of a barely disguised lecture, albeit a very good one. Theatre and performance is deconstructed and laid bare — no smoke and mirrors, no sleight of hand. It is intriguing and refreshing, but little else. Then something magical happens: the elements of theatre are reconstructed (sometimes literally) before our very eyes. Andy still occasionally breaks in with a quotation or two from a textbook, but the narrative pull is there, made all the more involving by the personality and genuine chemistry between the pair. Their friendship and working relationship is dramatised, and the pair — along with the director, Karl James — clearly work extremely well together. Fact and fiction blur; unexplained events occur. The audience is treated as a friend, an enemy, a co-conspirator.

This is theatre that is both casual and deliberate: both humorous and deadly serious. It has the cadences of ordinary speech and the beauty and repeated refrains of poetry. One of the central concerns of the piece is absence and presence, the space of the theatre and the simple act of being together in that space — what it means, and what it can do. The message of hope rings out loud and clear without ever being preachy or dogmatic. Wonderful, original, powerful theatre.

what happens to hope at the end of the evening is playing at the Almeida Theatre until 18 July. For more information and tickets, see the Almeida Theatre website.

Photography by Katherine Leedale.