An Oak Tree at the National Theatre
Revived to mark its ten-year anniversary, An Oak Tree surprises the audience with its intriguing mix of the unpredictable and the premeditated. The story is brought to life by two characters: a hypnotist played by the author of the play, Tim Crouch, and a father who has lost his daughter in a car accident caused by the hypnotist. The freshness of the production derives from the fact that in each performance the role of the father is played by a different actor – someone who has never seen the script before and is as unfamiliar with the play as the audience is. Crouch directs the second actor openly by giving him instructions for all to hear, and at other times he guides him through a headset or asks him to read directly from the script. The uncertainty and potential for error keeps the tension alive and the audience alert.
Experimental in every aspect, An Oak Tree is sometimes reminiscent of Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author, particularly when Crouch and the second actor take breaks to discuss the play’s events up until that point. The playwright asks the actor what he thinks of the play, and answers his questions regarding the characters. Even though these parts are scripted, the element of self-analysis adds another layer of playfulness to the experiment. Just like Pirandello, Crouch wishes to remind the audience that the setting, the actors, the background story and even the dialogue are arbitrary and replaceable. It is the concept of the play that the audience is invited to focus on. By weakening all the stage devices that one usually relies on in order to believe and follow a story, Crouch automatically strengthens the core of the plot. Essentially, he cuts out the pretence and brings the audience closer to the work by exposing its secret hinges.
The unusual concept and the dissecting of theatrical components means that the play is about theatre as much as it is about the characters. Crouch highlights the fact that a play is just a sum of snippets of information, and that the manner of imparting lines and assigning meaning can transform the experience. The overall effect is a combination of humour and emotion, enriched by the playful experimentation on stage. An Oak Tree is a must-see for anyone interested in the philosophical dimension of theatre, presented in an entertaining light.
An Oak Tree is on at the National Theatre from 23rd June until 15th July 2015, for further information or to book visit here.