An Oak Tree by Tim Crouch is a play about the power of suggestion – “yes? Say ‘yes’.” The structure defies convention and excitingly allows some of Sydney’s leading actors like Deborah Mailman, Jeremy Simms and Richard Roxburgh a surprise appearance and the opportunity to exercise their craft in a most unusual way. They have not read the script before tonight and the only suggestions they are given is to ‘enjoy themselves’.
John Leary, the principal actor, is like the ring leader in a circus – “is this true? Say ‘yes’.” We are told he is a hypnotist. He wears glasses. He is five foot five tall and is 30 years-old. He tells us he has lost his mojo. As instructions fly from his mouth, we witness Leary smoothly slide between the person, the actor and the character.
With a narrative circulating around a man’s confrontation with his daughter’s killer – a failing hypnotist performing at an RSL Club – we are reminded of how reality gets distorted in the face of tragedy. Yet An Oak Tree does more than tell a story. It raises questions like: how do we know what we know? Why do we believe what we believe? And, how can we get what we want?
In the style of Pirandello’s Six characters in Search of an Author, it turns a mirror on the theatrical process and slips between a variety of imaginary – or real – worlds, including the one where we are the audience of a play taking place at Belvoir’s downstairs theatre.
The audience and the other actor are challenged to suspend disbelief in the face of frequent reminders of their place in the play. It juggles humour and grief with inarticulate yet comprehensible language together with different worlds of perceived reality, the hypnotic state and grieving characters.
The actor descends upon the stage like a frightened audience member in an RSL production. Complete with tinny microphone, overtly effervescent host and music as well as badly upholstered furniture, the acutely familiar RSL scene is complete thanks to the fabulously kitsch set by Xanthe Heubel and lighting design by Verity Hampson – I can almost smell stale beer emanating from invisible bar towels.
An Oak Tree was awarded a Herald Angel at Edinburgh and the OBIE Award in New York. “You know this to be true because it’s written on this page.” Despite its clever and complex structure, it is simply and clearly communicated yet leaves you recalling its delicate details hours after the show.
On the two nights I went, I saw actors Edan Falk and Claudia Karvan, who improvised unique quirks and personality into the same scripted characters. I will definitely visit the show again and have the chance of running into anyone from Chas Licciardello to Brendan Cowell or Leah Purcell.
“You now know this to be true. Yes? Say ‘yes’.”
Ride On and B Sharp present
An Oak Tree
by Tim Crouch
Venue: Belvoir St Downstairs Theatre, 25 Belvoir St, Surry Hills
Season: 17 July – 10 August
Times: Tues 7pm, Wed-Sat 8.15pm, Sun 5.15pm
Tickets: $29/$23 (Preview $20, Cheap Tues Pay-what-you-can min $10)
Bookings: 9699 3444 or www.belvoir.com.au