Tim Crouch’s new one-man play is a cynical, desperate exploration of theatre, in which Crouch breaks every convention and proclaims that theatre is dead.
Truth’s a Dog Must to Kennel was first performed at the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh in 2022. Co-directed by Andy Smith and Karl James, this one-man show is nihilistic and intentionally uncomfortable as Crouch bounces in between unseemly stand-up routines and gory descriptions of a “modern-dress production” of King Lear and its audience.
Coming into this, I knew close to nothing about King Lear, and watching the play I did feel like I missed out on some of the context. However, the play felt less about a production of King Lear than about the snobbery of modern theatre in parallel to this.
As we entered the Theatre, the stage was mostly bare except for a standing microphone, and a black stool. Crouch walked out onto the stage and regarded the audience. It took a few moments before we realised that the show had started because the house lights were still up. And they stayed up throughout. He placed a virtual reality headset over his eyes, and motioned out to the audience, pointing down to an audience member and saying “That usher, there.”
I both appreciated and felt uncomfortable about the fact Crouch kept bringing attention to the audience. He approached us with a precise and masterful knowledge of the space, making direct eye (or should I say VR-headset?) contact with the same audience members multiple times throughout, calling them different names. At one point, he even pointed to me and called me a “platinum membership holder.” I felt the eyes of the audience shift towards me, and away from the stage. In this respect, Crouch was very successful in making us feel like a part of the action, perhaps even complicit in it.
In Truth’s a Dog Must to Kennel the action was well-paced, Crouch made an effort to situate his audacious stand-up segments directly after the most overwhelming moments of description. I specifically enjoyed the sound (designed by Pippa Murphy) as the booming and droning noises perfectly accentuated the drama of Crouch’s horror-ridden descriptions of the blinding in King Lear. This piece very effectively created a world out of blank space, drawing me in with the descriptions of gory deaths and startling me by using comedy to break out of this.
I did feel that the overall plot of Truth’s a Dog Must to Kennel was convoluted, perhaps intentionally. I respected the drive and focus with which Crouch flitted between the virtual world of King Lear and its fictional audience, and his recurring taboo stand-up act. Yet I sometimes felt at a loss about their relevance and coherence in relation to each other.
With both modes of performance, Crouch attempted to be as convention-defying as possible – in his stand-up, he mentioned topics such as funerals, and a family doing “you know what.” It did feel like most of the performance hinged on the shock factor of his descriptions and the repeated sentiment of theatre being dead. His performance felt like a fittingly frenetic and desperate attempt to regain something, as his dejected character of the Fool walks out of the theatre.
By the end, it was made very clear that Crouch could not walk out and unlike the fool, he was trapped within the space. As Crouch bowed, he motioned to the bare stage as a character in its own right and to us, the audience. No curtain fell, the house lights stayed up, and Crouch exited.
Ultimately, I am not sure how I felt about this production. Crouch is clearly a seasoned performer, who is unafraid to break every rule in the book, yet his performance comes off as all-too-knowing of itself. The storytelling was enthralling and I appreciated the command Crouch had on the space, but questioned the cynicism and nihilism he regarded theatre with.
Truths a Dog Must to Kennel is an interesting piece of modern solo theatre, that is worth seeing if you like a bit of cynicism and experimental theatre. Unfortunately, the Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh production was only showing for one night at Contact – but hopefully, it will return for a tour soon!