(Warning, massive spoilers ahead.)
The fourth wall is a barrier which the theatre has long been trying to both preserve and break, often simultaneously. For audiences, it’s a psychological safety curtain, separating us from the proceedings onstage and allowing us to emotionally engage without risk. For performers, the fourth wall can provide boundaries for performance, keeping a focus on the stage and not in the house. But then there’s promenade and interactive pieces, which have no walls, talking directly to the audience and making them as much a part of the show as the cast or the text.
The Author is all about breaking down the fourth wall. And the others. Looking at a play from four perspectives (two actors, author Tim Crouch who plays himself, and an audience member), The Author is about the walls we construct inside and outside of the theatre. About preserving our distance. About keeping it safe. About things not being safe.
For example, there is no actual stage. The four cast members are seated around amongst two sets of facing seats. Audience members are constantly talked to, pointed at, and referenced. And, in the cast of Adrian, are something that author Crouch clearly finds annoying: he talks about seeing everything, worshipping actors, and offers Maltesers to others. The events, told in a broken way resembling a group therapy session, revolve around one of Tim’s plays: a hyper-violent piece about wartime abuse which ends with Adrian being attacked by Vic, an actor who let the role get to him, at the stage door. Meanwhile Tim breaks down after months of researching torture videos by having a wank to a video of a baby sucking on a penis while actress Esther’s own infant is in the same room.
Needless to say, the audiences is taken out of their comfort zone. As someone who loathes audience participation and prefers to sit stoically in the back, I had the mis(?)fortune of ending up seated behind Crouch as he delivered the climactic tale. So much for that.
Personal squickiness aside, The Author is a brainy and challenging work in its themes often let down in execution: the dialogue is primarily “I” statements, there are odd pauses for non-beneficial lighting cues, and the events are far more interesting than the characters who lived them: Esther is a stereotypically shallow actress who thinks she’s deeper than she is, Vic is a big softie who keeps playing the hard man, Tim is suicidal, and if I’d been sitting near Adrian I’d have probably resorted to violence to keep him from talking. But as a fan gone pro, it’s an unavoidable reaction: we were Adrians at one point before we grew the hell up in order to be taken seriously.
So should you see The Author? I guess, if you’re the “I’m more fringe than you” sort or you like ticking extreme content boxes. Me, I’m a traditionalist, happy to let the action stay far, far away.
Addendum: I also have to take away points from the Royal Court (despite the fact that they were kind enough to supply a press ticket) for how much I loathe their bar. Sloane Square is not the easiest place to find an affordable pre-theatre meal (unless you come early enough to justify the walk to the Stockpot down Kings Road), and trying to even get a packet of crisps at the theatre is like fighting through an angry mob with the pre-Enron traffic. There’s nowhere to stand without getting jostled around like socks in the washing machine, and the more substantive bar offers disappear immediately, leaving people who come for the late show with empty stomachs and fuller wallets.