Total Immediate Collective Imminent Terrestrial Salvation at the Royal Court Theatre
Tim Crouch’s Total Immediate Collective Imminent Terrestrial Salvation feels a bit like being back at primary school. Everyone’s sat in a circle, reading from the same book, the pace dictated not by your own abilities but by some other authority. It’s an immediately arresting gimmick, a live collaboration between text, performance, illustration and audience. Yet it’s never quite as playful or interesting as it initially seems.
In our present, tragedy strikes. World-breaking, if only to a few people. 15 years from now this loss has bred something new, not a belief – “belief is the end of intelligence” – but a theory. Like every theory, it has its followers, its leader, its rules – and its book. A girl (Shyvonne Ahmmad) is sleeping, that tome – spine bent and pages down – laid next to her. A woman (Susan Vidler) watches.
It’s a story about our reliance on stories and our willingness – or otherwise – to push at the boundaries of what has been written for us. Or how cults are the patriarchy boiled down to its essence. Or a question of fate and destiny, what is determined and what can be changed in the face of catastrophe. If that sounds like a GCSE-level decoding of the play, fair enough. Total Immediate… has a thematic malleability that is one of biggest strengths and weaknesses, building to an ending that lacks its intended impact.
There’s is a sense that the production’s bells and whistles aren’t being put to their best uses. It’s just not very engaging to read along with the actors, however important that idea is to the production. It also lends the piece a careful, measured tone that ends up being more sedate than ominous, especially when awkward audience members get involved.
Better are the moments where Rachana Jadhav’s illustrations are accompanied by Pippa Murphy’s scene-setting sound design – pages turn in unison, the feeling of being part of a collective at its most acute.
This is no knock on the actors. Ahmmad is brilliantly bright-eyed, Kool-Aid fully drank; Vilder increasingly determined to set this girl free; and as the leader, Crouch himself is perfectly convincing and convinced, his sonorous voice fitting for the apocalypse.
Honestly, the above is probably a bit too harsh on a production that is genuinely trying to do something different. The show remains a wonderfully unique first attempt at an intriguing new conceit, regardless of whether it falls short of its promise.
Photos: Eoin Carey
Total Immediate Collective Imminent Terrestrial Salvation is at the Royal Court Theatre from 3rd September until 21st September 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.