The relationship between actor and audience should be real enough for audiences to “feel able to answer back. Or shout out.”
So says one of the characters in Tim Crouch’s The Author, an experimental piece of theatre which explores just that. There is no stage, only two banks of raked seating for the audience. The actors sit among them; it is not clear who they are or how many they are until they speak. Though the piece is scripted, it is written to involve the audience. So we are asked questions, invited to introduce ourselves and comment on what the actors are saying, encouraged to answer back and shout out.
But do we? That is what makes The Author an interesting piece of theatre. How do humans react in such a situation? Some are eager to participate, some do so more reluctantly, some sit unsmiling, some laugh warily. One man walks out – is he an actor too? – and later, when the house is plunged into darkness half way through the show, more leave, surreptitiously.
A programme note says that the atmosphere created by the actors should be warm and non-confrontational, designed to make the audience feel comfortable and under no pressure to participate. To an extent this is the case – the humour and the absurdity of the situation make it so – but a sense of unease, and possibly impatience, seems to grow among the audience as the piece progresses.
This is due to the story within the piece, narrated by four actors as they sit among their audience. It is the story of a play, a shocking, bloody play about the abuses carried out in wartime, which is directed by Tim Crouch and stars Vic and Esther. The story of their development of the play, through research, rehearsals and performance, is entwined around that of Adrian, an avid theatregoer who goes to see the play and receives an abuse of his own.
Adrian says at one point that you can see “everything imaginable” at the Royal Court, and it is true that the new writing theatre regularly asks its actors to perform any number of intimate acts which are uncomfortable to watch and no doubt uncomfortable to perform. In incorporating the story that it does, I get the sense that The Author is trying to be like this, trying to shock, trying to provoke. But it feels unnecessary; the unusual format of the piece is enough to get an audience reaction without the more obvious shock tactics used within the story.
Nevertheless, The Author remains an interesting and thought-provoking experiment, an analysis of the engagement between audience and actor that is so vital for the success of theatre.