Review: Total Immediate Collective Imminent Terrestrial Salvation, Royal Court Theatre

Fresh from the Edinburgh International Festival, Total Immediate Collective Imminent Terrestrial Salvation is a novel approach to theatre-making – in more ways than one. The latest addition to playwright Tim Crouch’s experimental cannon, a feeling of curiosity is inspired from the offset. Here, there is no room for one’s personal possessions. Even before entering, it is a place with a strict set of rules, to be followed to the letter.

Set in the round, a play text sits obediently on every seat. Much like pew bibles in a church, these are more scripture than script. “This book is part of the play” says Anna, played by Susan Vidler, “We’ll all turn the pages together.” Soon, the beeping of a life support machine underscores tragedy. It is winter, and five-year-old Felix steps onto the frozen surface of a lake. Ice cracks under the weight of his tiny body and he falls through, with his father, Miles, unable to save him. 

What is a fatal accident for the former is a near-death experience for the latter. One which, on the brink of this life and the next, prompts a vision of the end of the world. In this sense, Total Immediate makes for a strange, heady experience. It’s preoccupation with Armageddon is potent too, given the instability of our current political landscape, as well as the fast (and potentially irreversible) changes to the world’s climate. In this, Crouch sees the human race – architects of apocalypse – congregate as one. 

Though, there is something missing from this poetic event. In much the same way as  a line of iambic pentameter with only three metric feet, Crouch and Director Andy Smith manipulate just three of the five senses. While elements of sight, sound (courtesy of Pippa Murphy) and touch work effectively, what the piece lacks is total intoxication. One yearns for “the smell of earth and flattened grass” promised in writing, or the taste of a berry-flavoured snack scarfed by the character of Sol (Shyvonne Ahmmad).

The play itself exists in many forms. It capitalises on the intimacy of the reading experience, which is made more profound by Rachana Jadhav’s beautiful illustrations. Images tend to compensate for what cannot be seen; a severe steel fence becomes a symbol for the trappings of language, with entire sentences scoured by shadows. At times, words are swallowed up by the page – blurred, hidden, or thrown into chaos. 

Crouch’s language is delicate and unnerving in its examination of Fact, Science, and Truth. Yet, there is power in the actors’ deviation from what is written – of the uncertainty it causes. Mostly, Total Immediate is a meditation on storytelling. Of the stories we tell ourselves when reality is too much to bear, of who gets to tell stories, and questions whom this story belongs to. It is enough to make one’s fingers itch with the ending of every passage, so that at times, they  move automatically, ahead of the pack. There is a constant need to know how it all ends, which is, of course, impossible.

Total Immediate Collective Imminent Terrestrial Salvation is playing at the Royal Court until 21 September. For more information and tickets, visit the Royal Court website.