WHEN it was established a couple of years ago, the National’s Temporary Theatre promised a programme of experimental theatre.
And Tim Crouch’s play An Oak Tree is exactly that.
Crouch plays a sleazy and somewhat creepy hypnotist who is doing his second rate show in a pub where we the audience are his audience.
However, his ability to do his shows has been dented after he knocked down and killed a 12-year-old girl.
His hold on his show further diminishes when one night the girl’s father, Andy, riddled with grief and despair and believing an oak tree which is by the side of the road where the accident happened, represents his daughter, comes to see it in a bid to get closure.
Andy – who to begin with is sitting in amongst the audience – volunteers to be hypnotised and takes his place on one of a line of chairs facing the audience. The rest of the volunteers are imaginary.
At each show Andy is played by a different actor from the current National Theatre company. The night I saw it he was played by Kate Duchene.
To add to the experimentation, none of the actors who play the role have seen the script before they step onto the stage. They only meet Crouch about an hour before the show starts to get a few basic bits of info about the play but that’s about it.
It makes for a rather disjointed piece. Some of the lines are read aloud by both Crouch and the other actor from a script on clipboards but some are spoken just by Crouch and some he relays to the actor through headphones.
Throughout the piece he also gives stage directions, sometimes pausing the action to do so and sometimes while lines are being said.
For Duchene it was clearly an emotional experience, as she was wiping away tears at some points during proceedings.
It is essentially a play about grief, loss and suggestion and it was unsettling at times. There were moments of drama and of humour during the 70 minutes, but while it was undoubtedly an interesting piece, for me it didn’t quite work.
An Oak Tree is on at the Temporary Theatre, National Theatre, until Wednesday, July 15. Visit www.nationaltheatre.org.uk or call the box office on 020 7452 3000.