The congregation assembles:
We sit, a two row-deep circle, while ornate green hard-backed books containing the script are given out. The show begins, actors appear and the audience is invited to read along and contribute, turning pages in tandem, tackling Tim Crouch's lines and taking on roles as and when required. It's a Bible studies class – the text is revered, poured over.
The loosely sketched story, about the final hour of a South American apocalypse-anticipating cult and its leader Miles, is an initial entry point for Crouch's new metatheatrical merrymaking show. It's a neat comparison – watching theatre is, after all, a cult-like experience; a story has to exist with a parish of punters. We watch various members of the audience stand up and join the actors, the plot gradually coming into focus. Patchwork lighting and sound design from Karen Bryce and Pippa Murphy means different effects coincide with the turning of story's pages.
And when I say the story is loosely sketched, the scenes are quite literally drawn into the hard-backed script – Rachana Jadhav's kaleidoscopically cosmic, page-spanning tableaux spring out from between the lines. Rarely does a playtext have the ability to one-up performers on stage.
There are some striking similarities with previous Crouch work – especially An Oak Tree, which also used the loss of a family member to interrogate what it means to perform and the various, eccentric ways that grief can manifest itself. But this piece feels less emotionally intimate and more playfully communal – you can almost sense Crouch's joy at having members of the public entering his space.
This is a Tim Crouch play, and any initial ideas can only last so long before they're distorted and twisted out of shape. Actors add their own lines, stage directions are ignored. The text and its actors start to diverge, leaving a flitting sense of inertia, that things are not as preordained as we might expect. Even Jadhav's art starts to show us stories we're not meant to believe, a betrayal of trust.
There are some strong performances from the cast of three, carefully guiding us through Crouch's conceptual capers. It might not have the same visceral incision that defined some of his earlier shows, but Total Immediate is an accomplished riff on a still-intriguing theme – the belief required to suspend your disbelief.