Tim Crouch: Truth’s a Dog Must to Kennel

Aug 13 2022 | By More

★★★★★   Exit, mind blown

Royal Lyceum Theatre Studio (Venue 549): Sat 6 – Sun 28 Aug 2022
Review by Hugh Simpson

Truth’s a Dog Must to Kennel is a worryingly prescient piece. It is an exquisite creation that apparently denies the very point of creativity, a hymn to humanity that insists that humanity has had it. To call it ‘thought-provoking’ would be a criminal understatement.

Tim Crouch’s new solo piece takes its title and some of its inspiration from King Lear. Shakespeare’s world is all blasted heath, societal collapse, torture and hatred. It couldn’t be like that here, of course.

Tim Crouch in Truth’s A Dog Must to Kennel

The house lights are defiantly on, with Pippa Murphy’s unsettling electronic score bubbling away, as Crouch, wearing a VR headset, appears to be witnessing the audience and performers in Lear at another, more expensively-furnished theatre.

Of course, as Crouch soon admits, there’s nothing inside the headset. But, if this appears a jeu d’esprit, it’s far from a joke. No jokes here, Crouch insists (although part of the performance is presented as stand-up). It’s all more serious than that.

You see, the reason why the Fool disappears from King Lear halfway through is because he can’t take it any more. Or at least Crouch, the actor supposedly playing him in that plush, corporate-sponsored playhouse, can’t. A world gone mad, on the brink of collapse, with debased royal figures feeding on themselves and everyone else, those in power ignoring all rules of civility and civilisation, cruelty and intolerance abounding – this is not a world he can bear.

And this, Crouch says, is the world we are all living in. We thought it was all OK, we thought the arc of the moral universe was long but it was bending towards justice. We were wrong.

He presents it all with such a smiling face, and with such a reasonable attitude, that the full horror of the message takes time to sink in. We are surrounded by inequality and suffering, utterly inured to it, so the horrific events of Lear are but a heartbeat away. Murphy’s score rises to a literally painful pitch.

Of course, the arts are going to go too; in fact, they already have done. The jibes at theatre seem to be at first at its expense and exclusivity, but it soon turns out it is actually dead. This isn’t a self-referential play about plays; it’s a transmission from the morgue.

howling into the void

There has, of course, been much existential wrangling over the past two years about the fate of live theatre. Turns out it goes much deeper than the shortage of technicians, as those with transferable skills have had to get other jobs. Turns out it’s worse than performers’ already precarious existences declining further. Turns out it’s all over already. Any opportunities for shared live experience, wounded by reality TV, have been killed off by the pandemic and are now a matter for the archaeologist.

Perversely, of course, this requiem for live performance is done with such commitment, such bravado, such sheer bloody brass neck, that it shows how it should go on. And, despite the protestations, it’s actually very funny at times.

Not that Crouch would have it, of course. There’s actual hurt here, and the smiling stand-up conceals a raging Old Testament prophet howling into the void and predicting the terrors of the Earth.

The staging is, of course, tremendous. Karl James and Andy Smith’s direction is so pin-sharp it appears that the whole thing is completely improvised. Similarly, the brilliance of Laura Hawkins’s lighting design lies in the fact that there doesn’t appear to be any.

Murphy’s score has the opposite effect, going from unobtrusive to piercingly worrying.

Although brilliantly done (or more accurately, because it’s brilliantly done) this is not for everyone. The commitment to the message is taken to ontological extremes; I never thought I would see a version of the fabled ‘Aristocrats’ routine, even a comparatively expurgated one, in a production staged by the Royal Lyceum. (If you know what that is, you’ll know whether this is for you. If you don’t, you probably don’t want to Google it.)

So, 5 stars then. Or 1 star if you prefer. Nothing is 5 stars now. Stars are over. Theatre’s over. It’s all over.

Running time 1 hour 15 minutes (no interval)
Royal Lyceum Theatre Studio, Grindlay St, EH9 3AX (Venue 549)
Saturday 6 – Sunday 28 August 2022
Daily (not Mon or Tue): at 20:15
Information and tickets book here.
Lyceum website: https://lyceum.org.uk.


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