If you’re going to get anything out of British playwright Tim Crouch’s An Oak Tree come prepared to go along with the notion that you’re going to know far more about the premise than one of the cast members. And given that there are only two actors onstage, this makes for a surprising and often discomforting theatre experience.
Each night a different guest actor joins Hayden Spencer (Scare Bleu, The Lonesome West). The rules are simple and there’s only one: the guest must know nothing about the play before they come onstage. Spencer, playing a traumatised hypnotist, calls the guest to the stage and feeds them their lines via printed script, through headphones and in sotto voce.
The guest, on this night, the wonderful Amy Ingram, is just a face in a crowded RSL, called up to be part of the hypnotist’s wincingly bad show. As his act hobbles painfully on, deeper truths are revealed about the hypnotist and grieving father Andy.
From here on in it’s time to forget about the story. This is an experiment in the best sense. This is two actors creating something completely new, each performance bringing a fresh dynamic to the basic structure.
An Oak Tree is theatre pared back to basics. Todd MacDonald’s direction is tight and subtle as is the minimal production design by Simone Romaniuk. Phil Slade’s score is atmospheric and somewhat eerie, suiting the subject matter, and Ben Hughes’s lighting unobtrusive.
QTC should be commended for programming such an engaging and challenging work and it’s great to see Hayden Spencer back on the Brisbane stage. He’s the perfect ringmaster, bringing a wealth of experience to a difficult piece.
As I’ve stated, An Oak Tree is an experiment and not everyone will enjoy being part of it. But the question of whether it works or doesn’t work is irrelevant. This is bold theatre-making in its rawest form and I’m going back for more.
Note – Discounted tickets are on offer for those who want to see the show again. Call QTC for more info.
Queensland Theatre Company presents
An Oak Tree
by Tim Crouch
Director Todd MacDonald
Venue: Bille Brown Studio
Dates: April 28 to May 14, 2011