Still trying to work out what I thought about this. Poly loved it but it's not quite as clear cut for me.
It's a first 'Tim Crouch' for me. He writes, performs and produces his own work with the help of a small team.
An Oak Tree mixes form and narrative in a way that exposes the inner workings of producing the play. The title refers to the story of a pub hypnotist (Crouch) who has accidentally killed a girl. Her father, who is having problems coming to terms with her death, then turns up at one of his shows and volunteers to be hypnotised.
The father is played by a different actor every night - we had the ever fabulous Kate Duchêne - except they haven't seen the play before or rehearsed. Crouch talks them through the part as the play progresses, sometimes openly telling them what to say in response, sometimes through an earpiece and sometimes talking to them as a fellow performer rather than as a character. This is raw performance which is naturally thrilling to watch.
The Oak Tree story has moments of stark poetry, Crouch's script reflecting in Duchêne's emotional performance and the mascara tracks down her cheeks. There is some humour in the knowingness and Crouch is an able performer switching his various roles and deftly administering the more technical aspects of the show.
But there is something unsatisfactory in the pace and mixing of form. There are periods where things come a halt as Crouch talks solely for Duchêne's ears. And at other times the central narrative gets lost in the set up sequences. You are invested and engaged and then the form changes.
In the end there are a series of genius moments - emotional, poetic, funny and the simple thrill of watching an improvised performance - but equally it can feel frustrating. If that is the point then full marks to Crouch.
There is a line in which Crouch asks Duchêne if she thinks it is too contrived which got a big laugh. It does feel too contrived at times and perhaps a little too knowing. Crouch certainly knows how to get a myriad of responses out of his audience but it isn't quite the mix you'd imagine.
You can catch An Oak Tree in The Other Space at the National Theatre until 15 July and it is 70 minutes without an interval.
Kate Duchêne was in An Education with Carey Mulligan who is to be seen in Suffragette this Autumn in which Mr W plays her husband.