Review: Adler and Gibb, by Tim Crouch, at the Royal Court Theatre Downstairs

Brian Ferguson, Denise Gough and Tim Crouch in rehearsal

Brian Ferguson, Denise Gough and Tim Crouch in rehearsal

I am not fond of plays that come with instructions but I feel I should issue one for Adler and Gibb, the new play by Tim Crouch currently staged at the Royal Court: for a significant part of the first half you will be thinking “I don’t know what the fuck is going on”. Persevere. Not only will it start to make sense, but some of the confusion will lent an anarchic – if not chaotic – bent to the whole thing.

The background of the story is summarised beautifully at the Royal Court website: “Janet Adler and Margaret Gibb were conceptual artists working in New York at the end of the last century. They were described by art critic Dave Hickey as the ‘most ferociously uncompromising voice of their generation’. With Adler’s death in 2004, however, the compromise began.” Tim Crouch tells some of this story and another one and another one. In fact he keeps telling the story long after the performance has finished. His playfulness and inventiveness fuels the experience.

One of the best things about the play is it communicates ambivalence about its existence the same way Adler and Gibb felt uncertain about their work and the value of art in general**. In that sense, the play is successful and profoundly faithful to its subject. It’s tricky to be engaging while being uncertain about your own worth (after all, why should the audience care if the play is uncertain about itself?). But Tim Crouch pulls it off. Which is the point for me: art is not different to life. It exists independently from the value we assign to it, or what the artist thinks of it. It can be good or bad, but it doesn’t need to justify itself no more than life does. Continue reading