Review: An Oak Tree – Queensland Theatre Company @ Bille Brown Studio

QTC has kicked off its first production in the inaugural Studio season with An Oak Tree by Tim Crouch, a UK actor-writer. The play is directed in another first (his) by the Company’s new Artistic Associate Todd MacDonald. An Oak Tree has had a good performance track record since its first appearance at Edinburgh’s Traverse Theatre in 2005. For QTC it’s played out over 75 minutes in a new configuration in the BB Studio complete with red curtain, a little stage, plastic chairs and small drinks tables – yes you can bring yours in if you like – there’s no interval, by the way. It’s rather like a cosy Leagues Club somewhere, which is handy, because we learn that is where this performance within a performance takes place.

By the way, there is a tree in An Oak Tree. It takes its name from an art work (1973) by Michael Craig-Martin. However, the play’s tree is one spun out of your own imagination – a virtual tree, if you like. Read the Wikipedia entry on Craig-Martin’s artwork highlighted above, or scan your programme and you will get some sense of what Crouch’s play explores: need, faith, the capacity to give credence to the impossible – like transubstantiation or a change in the form or substance of something. An example is the sacramental bread and wine which, during the consecration at a Catholic Mass, is believed to become the body and blood of Christ whilst maintaining its original appearance. From another angle, theatre makers talk about ‘the willing suspension of disbelief’ as part of the transaction between the work of art on stage and the audience’s reception of it. On a more human level An Oak Tree is about grieving and coping and the terrible vulnerability of the human condition.

An Oak Tree is a small but very rich and detailed work. It is not a play for the inattentive or the casual observer, or for actors afraid to step outside their comfort zone.

However, whilst it plays with your head and with dramatic structure and language An Oak Tree‘s narrative line is quite simple and, I promise, there are no spoilers if you read further. Two people – one, a hypnotist and the other an audience member – come together in what is, supposedly, a hypnotist’s act in a club – all for a bit of fun, ladies and gentlemen. Ostensibly strangers at this point, it turns out the pair have a shared history which is gradually revealed. The individual trajectories of their lives intersected at what dramatists used to call the ‘inciting incident.’ Here, it’s one which has devastated both. Their lives have continued, but each has been crippled by that moment in the past when both were forever changed. The content and subject of the play revolves around their interaction on stage and the playing out of their coping and survival mechanisms. Almost inevitably, their lives bleed into one another; we see their becoming as one-another by the play’s end. Continue reading Review: An Oak Tree – Queensland Theatre Company @ Bille Brown Studio