Playwright/actor Tim Crouch is showing me a beautifully illustrated book, in Marwood Café. Some of Rachana Jadhav’s illustrations fill whole pages, while others are smaller comic book panels. In Tim’s new play, Total Immediate Collective Imminent Terrestrial Salvation, each audience member is sat on stage and given a copy of the book to read – which also features stage directions and dialogue – whilst also watching actors perform. “We spend time as an audience, collectively, studying illustrations.”The plot concerns “a group of people who’ve been led to a place in South America on the understanding that the world will end.” Tim performs as Miles, the leader of this group and the author of the book. Audience members are invited to read out loud if they choose to, but it’s not obligatory.
“I wanted to make a play that invited the audience to share the reading. That was a formal beginning; the narrative beginning was me wanting to write a play about belief. Seeing parallels in the belief that exists in the theatre – where a group of people comes together and commits to the beliefs of a play – with groups of people coming together and contracting into sets of political or religious beliefs.”
A lot of thought has clearly gone into how audiences will experience and enjoy the play. Tim explains that they are using sound design “to lift the stories off the page”, including the sound of ice cracking in a pivotal scene, to ramp up tension. “They could spend the whole show reading the book, or they could go from book to action. Sometimes the action will correspond with what’s described in the book, sometimes it won’t. So I’m asking the audience to fill in the gap, and square the contradiction between what they see in the book and what they see in the action. In a way, it’s another way of telling a story, one that gives an audience greater authority.
“Some people really dig that… but somebody in Edinburgh said ‘this is not a library, it’s a theatre’.” TICITS has played at Edinburgh International Festival, Royal Court Theatre and Dublin Theatre Festival before its ACCA run. I ask Tim if the performances have varied much so far. “Well every time there’s a new audience, it’s like a whole new cast. The play can run longer or shorter depending on how people respond to the text.
“I’m trying to question the notion of the virtuoso, and how we venerate performers. There is an element of cult in it, which I get very uneasy about. From people autograph hunting to worshipping celebrities… I’m trying to dismantle what’s in that. To give as much to the audience as possible. Every audience brings a different energy to it. So it’s different every time, even though every word is scripted.”
attenboroughcentre.com, 6-9 Nov