Conceptual art is that in which the ideas behind a project are more important than the actual end product. That certainly sums up perfectly Tim Crouch’s play Adler & Gibb, returning this week to London to daze, perplex and confuse audience at the Unicorn.
The play has several layers of storytelling - at its heart, the tale of deceased artist Janet Adler and her partner Margaret Gibb, told predominantly through the intrusion of actress Louise and acting coach Sam into the seemingly abandoned home of Adler more than 10 years after the woman’s death in order to research her as a movie role. This is framed by a nervous art student giving a presentation on Adler's influence only a year after her death, and the action unfolds as though appearing in the student’s slides.
Despite the initial confusion as these different layers are made clear, it is a surprisingly easy play to follow. A minimalist set works well to provide the opportunity for imagination to take over, but the odd array of props used are awkward and jarring, somewhat cheapening a brilliant performance provided by the actors. With a minimal cast (and some parts and objects filled in for by a child stage hand), the simplicity of the production comes across as surprisingly appealing
Initially, the cast do a remarkably stellar job of conveying the story through only their voices and facial expressions, barely moving their bodies. In a play where the focus is on an actor trying to find their character, this technique really demonstrates the impact that it is possible to have on an audience without theflashy sets and costumes that seem to be actor Louise’s preference. In fact, the effect is so brilliant that it's almost a disappointment when they begin finally to move their characters around the stage and bring a slightly more traditional style to the performance.
Standing out are Cath Whitefield as Louise and Mark Edel-Hunt as Sam, both offering immensely compelling performances from start to finish. It is difficult to take your eyes off either of them, both presenting enthralling, though very different, characters.
Adler & Gibb is a very stylised play, and something of an acquired taste. However, despite that there is no denying that it is a magnificently crafted production, and worth a visit if you can push past the slightly confused opening and ending to the solid production underneath.
Review by Liv Burrell