It has been a couple of years since Tim Crouch’s Adler and Gibb doused the Royal Court stage with its unfurling question of reality versus art and whether or not there is value in either. What, in life, really is real and what is not? The 2016 version is bearer and, with that, rawer. This version is stark, empty yet brutally present. There is no set, but for non-descript chairs for the actors and an Ikea shelving unit for the props. This version is missing something of the world; some of the enticement into that surreal real world, of the fictional (yet easily attributable to any given celebrity) art duo Adler and Gibb. This version is also missing Denise Gough. That’s a cheap shot, I know, but it’s the elephant in the room and once you’ve had Gough it’s pretty hard to go back.
The theme, the narrative and the form still run strong. A self-absorbed LA actress Louise (Cath Whitefield) is starring in a biopic about Janet Adler. A seminal artist who became so disillusioned by the art industry and the stain of her own work that she sold off her legacy, and even ate some, before retreating to live out the rest of her days in secluded domesticity and self-sufficiency with her lover Margaret Gibb (Gina Moxley), before dying under suspicious circumstances. All fingers pointing at Gibb, now also presumed dead.
Adler and Gibb is told through a continuously thought unfurling and coaxing form. Initially, Louise and her acting coach Sam (Mark Edel-Hunt) arrive at the now dilapidated home of Adler and Gibb. Through direct address they speak action charged words: breaking into the house, having sex. Never once gesturing, never once looking at one another. Edel-Hunt and Whitefield are a little sterile in this for me, there’s not enough momentum, it’s a slow start that doesn’t pick up until three quarters of the way through. Still, though, by the time they are in the house, so are we.
Once inside Crouch lulls us into interactivity, minimally, still abnormal. Still telling us a story about two people so intent on telling their own story within the biopic they are willing to tamper reality, willing to dig up Gibb’s shallow grave for her diaries. Willing to kill Alder and Gibb’s dog, in itself a piece of their art: willing to kill art. (Stick with me). The dog is played by a child who acts as stage manager passing the rest of the cast props, shotguns, lobsters. The child isn’t a performer, she’s a stage manager, emotionless. She does two things, makes it even more surreal and even more real. When a dog is killed, it is a child, when a gun is handled, it is a child and when a body is dug up it is a child. Their story is so real to Louise and Sam; such a part of their lives that when it transpires that Gibb is, in fact, not dead they can’t keep it that way because it is not how their story goes.
The sparseness of that interactivity continues with Gibb. Moxley’s playing is in an entirely different league to what we have seen so far. It’s pacey, cold and yet so full of defeated heart that with almost nothing to go on, we still feel her pain. The story world Crouch has created for Louise and Sam; the warped adventure that they have undertaken to find ‘truth’ for Louise’s character in the name of ‘method’ is pierced. Imploded by the fact that they have encroached on Gibb’s actual world.
In the third and final arm of Crouch’s form we see the film (the biopic of Alder and Gibb’s lives) brought to life. There is nothing left from what we’ve seen, no people, no story. Even further from reality than the theatre.
All of this, is punctuated by a younger Louise as a student who is about to deliver her thesis about Adler which should contain all facts – well facts based on a narrative that fits into the confines of a mark scheme.
I rest my case, Tim Crouch is a master of form and it is that form that strikes and continues to unravel long after you have left the auditorium.
Adler and Gibb is playing Unicorn Theatre until 3 September. For more information and tickets, see The Unicorn Theatre website.. It then continues to The Lowry, Manchester until 17 September.
Photo: Richard Lakos