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Edinburgh International Festival 2019 review: Total Immediate Collective Imminent Terrestrial Salvation | reviews, news & interviews

Edinburgh International Festival 2019 review: Total Immediate Collective Imminent Terrestrial Salvation

Edinburgh International Festival 2019 review: Total Immediate Collective Imminent Terrestrial Salvation

Messianic devotion and audience complicity in a slippery new work from Tim Crouch

Circle of believers: Tim Crouch addresses his congregation of listeners in his troubling new theatre workEion Carey

It’s the end of the world as we know it. At least according to Miles, scientist turned messiah, who lost his son in an accident at a frozen lake, and who experienced visions of an impending apocalypse in his subsequent coma.

He’s established a colony of believers (let’s not call it a cult) in South America, and we’re here to bear witness to the arrival of his estranged wife, intent on reclaiming their daughter back to civilisation.

And it must be so, for it is written in the book, copies of which await us like hymnals when we take our places in the seating circle. The book contains exquisite illustrations, courtesy of Rachana Jadhav, as well as almost all of Total Immediate…’s text, missing just a few of the more spontaneous exchanges between mother and daughter. It’s almost as if this action has been foreseen, or even pre-ordained.

And this all-knowing, all-dictating book also requires audience members to get involved, reading out short sections, and even supplying all the voices when, quite magically, the actors leave the stage entirely.

Perhaps, however, these events have already happened. Perhaps we’re simply re-enacting them out of devotion or belief. Maybe we’re in some kind of ceremony or service, in which we’re far more involved and complicit than simple observers would be.

Tim Crouch’s new work, a collaboration with the National Theatre of Scotland, is getting its very first performances at the Edinburgh International Festival before transferring to London’s Royal Court in September. And as ever with Crouch, it’s a slippery, elusive piece of theatre. It’s almost as if its apparent storyline of a doomsday cult feels like an arbitrary framework for Crouch’s reflections on the rituals of theatre, on the role of the audience, on obedience and rebellion.

It’s all beautifully, elegantly done, with a coolness of conception that contrasts nicely with the sweltering heat of its South American setting. Shyvonne Ahmmad as the young Sol is naively impassioned, and Susan Vidler is a vision of calm semi-detachment as her mother Anna, both of them stepping out of character to supply the all-important instructions to the audience. Crouch is suitably charismatic as – apparently, at least – the group leader Miles, when he finally shows himself.

Total Immediate… is a thoughtful work, one whose layers of meaning and thematic conundrums only start to unravel – and trouble the mind – long after it’s finished.

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