Whether you would enjoy An Oak Tree might be best based on the response you’d give on learning that the play is named after a Michael Craig-Martin artwork in which an artist asks the viewer to suppose a glass of water has become a tree, and that Crouch is someone who described theatre as ‘a conceptual artform. It doesn’t need sets, costumes and props, but exists inside an audience’s head’.
There will be many who find the 70-min play – where Crouch performs opposite an actor who he meets an hour before and arrives on stage not having seen the script, or knowing anything about the play – exactly the kind of pretentious garbage that justifies the swingeing cuts currently being delivered to the Arts Council. However those who see in theatre a medium naturally open to the world of almost infinite possibility will surely be invigorated by this revival of an early work from one of the most formally inventive writers of the 21st century.
In recent years we have seen the flowering of a new generation of playwrights, with few ties to the in-yer-face dramatists of the 1990s. Nick Payne, Lucy Prebble and Lucy Kirkwood have burst onto the scene with superbly delicate plays that balance strong writing with inventive design and narrative trickery. Yet for all their skill none have come close to Crouch’s assault on the nature of theatre.
Coming in under the radar, Adler & Gibb – his most high profile play to date – was a shock to the system and a welcome reminder that there are still people willing to use theatre as a means to interrogate itself. It was infuriating, brilliant and radical. Exactly what theatre ought to be.