An Oak Tree

Aug 12 2023 | By More

★★★★★    Clear as water

Lyceum Theatre Studio (Venue 593): Fri 4 – Sun 27 Aug 2023
Review by Hugh Simpson

A mesmeric exploration of belief, loss and imagination as well as an ingeniously conceived experience, Tim Crouch’s An Oak Tree is a stunning piece of theatre.

First seen at the Traverse in 2005, and brought back to Edinburgh by Francesca Moody Productions at the Lyceum Studio, An Oak Tree has been said to have rewritten the rules of theatre. Each performance features Crouch himself and a second performer who has neither read nor seen the play.

That format – with the performer (Pippa Evans on this occasion) being led throughout the play with the aid of a script, or advice fed by Crouch into earphones – has often obscured the impact of the content.

Tim Crouch and Marc Mackinnon in An Oak Tree. Pic: Alex Brenner

Crouch plays a hypnotist, who accidentally knocked over and killed a twelve-year-old girl three months previously. The girl’s devastated father volunteers to be part of the hypnotist’s show above a pub. What follows, despite its intricacies, has a clarity of emotion that is devastating.

Although Evans is known for improvisation, it is clear that Crouch is resolutely in control of his material – even the bits that appear to be spontaneous. However, as any good Oulipian would tell you, it is the most artificially constructed artistic rules that can be the most freeing; Evans’s performance was magnetic in its fragility and humanity, just as Crouch’s was in its brittle yet commanding dedication to unfailingly failing.

It is important to state that this is not a piece of tricksiness; neither is it pretentious meta-theatre. Form and content are in harmony, and illuminate the same path.


The play’s title draws on Michael Craig-Martin’s 1973 work of the same name, where what appears to be a glass of water on a shelf is really an oak tree. What takes place on stage is a similar tribute to the power of concepts, of imagination, of artistic creation. However much we are reminded of the artificiality of what is taking place, this never diminishes its power; rather it enhances it.

Tim Crouch and Marc Mackinnon in An Oak Tree. Pic Alex Brenner

Grief can distort our perception of reality, but it is not the only thing that does so. If it seems ridiculous that a bereaved father believes his daughter has become a tree, it is not much more ridiculous than believing Pippa Evans is that same six-foot-two father, or that a chair represents his daughter, or indeed that Crouch is a hypnotist.

Worrying about the way AI can skew our experiences is all the rage, but the fact is that the collective will of spectators can conjure into being something much odder – and this is not so far from the faith and delusion that is exploited by so many huckstering politicians.

If we believe that the arts have any purpose, then we would do well to heed Crouch’s salutary reminder of the responsibilities of theatre makers and performers – and of audiences. Yes, and of critics too, since you ask.

Running time: One hour and 10 minutes (no interval)
Lyceum Theatre Studio, Grindlay St, EH3 9AX (Venue 593)
Friday 4 – Sunday 27 August 2023
Daily (not Mons) at 8.30 pm
Tickets and details Book here.


Lyceum website:

Company Instagram: @francesca_moody_productions

Tim Crouch website:

Twitter: @thistimcrouch


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