Janet Adler and Margaret Gibb were (fictional) American conceptual artists working during the last three decades of the Twentieth Century. They were collaborators and lovers, their work was innovatory, their appearance eccentric and their lifestyle unconventional. Tim Crouch’s new play (which he also co-directs) follows two modern film makers (Brian Ferguson and Denise Gough) as they try to demythologise the artists’ lives and works in order to uncover the truth about them. Giving the play an over-elaborate structure, we also hear from a young student presenting a paper on the artists and this proves to be an unnecessary distraction. Furthermore, the production’s style, which seems to assume that, if the play is about conceptual artists, it needs to be presented as if it were itself a piece of conceptual art, baffles more than it informs. Early parts of the play consist of absurdist conversations and surreal images, with children used as non-speaking extras, and there seems to be a lack of purpose, as we get only occasional glimpses of the very strong themes that are struggling to rise to the surface. Fortunately, the second act is altogether more focussed and Crouch now delivers his messages with clarity and force. He shows us that all the love, pain, ecstasy and suffering that form part of living are integral to art in all its forms and that they are themselves art. Gibb’s revelatory speech is superbly written and enhanced by Amelda Brown’s understated performance. A filmed sequence which is sheer perfection could and should have given the production a memorable conclusion, but, perversely, Crouch then chooses to remind us of the misjudgements that have dogged Act I, by tagging on a jokey postscript which misfires completely and comes close to destroying the reflective mood that everyone had worked so hard to create. In all, flawed but still intriguing.
Performance date: 17 June 2014