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Entre voix et silence

Whose Voice? Tim Crouch’s The Author and Active Listening on the Contemporary Stage

Vicky Angelaki


Cet article étudie la pièce de Tim Crouch L’Auteur (2009) en prenant en considération l’écoute active et la participation du public, et en s’intéressant à la manière dont pose la question de la responsabilité morale et éthique dans le théâtre contemporain. La pièce s’attaque au problème de l’expérience spectatorielle et problématise les différentes utilisations qui peuvent être faite de la voix et du discours en mettant en œuvre une conception renouvelée de la narration au théâtre et de la métathéâtralité. Dans le même temps, l’article s’intéresse aux différentes façons dont le public investit la pièce, et appréhende, en étudiant les méandres du texte, la relation à la fois précaire et gratifiante entre la pièce et son public.

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1This essay on Tim Crouch’s The Author (2009) is intended more as a response to the play deriving from performance experience, in relation to some of the key issues that emerge during that interaction, than as exhaustive analysis of the piece in its textual format. When I came to have my own spectatorial encounter with The Author in the autumn of 2010, it had already been on tour for some time. Moreover, a substantial amount of critical discourse had begun to develop around the play, both in the press and in academic scholarship. Despite differing perspectives and theoretical angles, there seemed to be a general consensus that The Author was fast emerging as the ultimate subject of dialogue in contemporary theatre. It appeared that almost 15 years on from a text at which The Author itself looks back in its strongly metatheatrical context, Sarah Kane’s Blasted (1995), a new, controversial play was feeding the debate on representation in our time and especially how far it could and should reach; what tools it had at its disposal and how it was ready to deploy them. It has been equally intriguing and revealing to observe how the piece offers itself to such a variegated range of critical approaches, as well as to an array of thematic discussions, with academics and/or critics choosing to focus on diverse aspects relating equally to form and content. It was only inevitable, consequently, that when the time came for my encounter with the play to take place, to an extent there was an understanding of what to expect. Before performance ‘began’, spectators were able to spot Tim Crouch immediately: tall and distinctive, he had taken his seat as one more audience member in the stalls. This performance is an exercise at surveying the field, wondering whether and how many of the remaining cast members are discoverable in their positions amongst the audience in the early moments. After all, the auditorium on the specific evening, the flexible, smaller space of the Birmingham Repertory Theatre reserved for plays that share a certain unconventionality in their plot often seen to appeal to non-mainstream theatergoers, had become the stage itself. As spectators we were all and, at the same time, no one in particular, forming part of it, in an uncommon state of theatre watching. It transpired that, in my case, all cast members but one had been identified prior to the beginning; the one, however, who had not, was ‘Esther’. Played by Esther Smith, not only is she a pivotal cog to Crouch’s story, but was also, in this case, occupying a seat in the immediate front row to where I was positioned. This was too near to feel safely detached. When Esther started to speak, it came as a great surprise. Her voice engendered the sensation of suddenly finding oneself thrust much closer to the ‘action’ than may have been initially anticipated, even considering the specific staging conditions.

2Crouch’s piece is undoubtedly one of the most prominent plays of recent years especially considering that, since its premiere in September 2009, it has never really faded from the spotlight. Rather, it has been the subject, not unlike many plays with explicitly violent content written in the 1990s, of continuous controversy. Its unusually long – for a contemporary play at least – stage history has had a role to play in this. With more audience exposure come more reactions, more to think about. It is still quite a rare scenario that a modern-day play, especially not one that could be perceived as popular theatre per se, will be given a long tour. It is such a journey across places and stages that, by extension, provides the creative team and the text itself with the opportunity to come into contact with a range of different audiences with distinctive sensibilities, which, in turn, lead to different kinds of reception. The general absence of revivals in contemporary theatre, especially considering the undeniable urgency of many of these plays, is regrettable – but it is the case nonetheless. The Author, therefore, has benefited from less than ordinary circumstances. It began as a theatre event in London and went on to become an event in the broader sense of the term. Although Crouch had been in the theatre scene for years, this was, arguably, his most publicized moment as an artist. The use of the word is intentional, considering ‘Tim’s’ varied roles and responsibilities in The Author, from writer, performer, audience member and director, to master of the narrative, head of a company, friend, husband, and transgressor. Not all of these roles are real, of course. Some reflect Crouch’s tasks in creating the piece and putting it on stage, while others relate to the attributes he comes to acquire as the performance progresses – as his character, Tim. It is a very fine, yet entirely distinguishable line between reality and fiction. The boldness of The Author derives from just that: the fact that it does not shy away from confronting these distinctions head on, outright blurring the lines between them as though to highlight their enforced artificiality and deliver a novel, sinister take on the art-in-life manoeuvre. It does so by using what is arguably both the barest and most evocative medium in theatrical performance: voice. It is on the ways in which voice in this play functions to activate the spectators’ field of conceptual vision and imagining that this essay will focus on.

3It should be noted that other than Crouch and the remaining company members, the audience is the crucial participant in this production. We are dealing with a group of audience members acting as audience members – spectators standing in the place of themselves. The audience is both a static and fluctuating quality; both there every night of the performance to assume its place in the play and changing on the basis of city, country and local – not to mention individual – idiosyncrasies. It is allowed its pre-created space in the narrative and encouraged to occupy it, filling the silence and/or responding to prompts at (not entirely clearly) designated moments during the show, giving no prior indication as to what that response is going to be like. This brings us, of course, to the uncontested duality of this key performance component, which exists both in singular and plural: the spectator and audience. Crouch and company can expect that thinking, listening, seeing, feeling and perhaps reacting bodies will take their seats to the show each night. What they cannot foresee though, are the responses that individual spectators may end up developing: from sighs to gestures and from walkouts to verbal abuse. And then, of course, there is also that, the most innocuous of responses, the nervous, awkward reply to their interlocutor’s prompt, especially when that interlocutor has just been revealed to be a cast member. Not just any cast member in fact, but one who is suddenly inviting them to speak, requesting that their voice – traditionally repressed in the course of the standard format performance – be given the space and time to achieve some sort of impact on the play. Or, perhaps more appropriately, spectators are encouraged to consider the possibility that any vocal reaction they produce may end up leaving an imprint on performance. Of course, this would include loud dismissals of the piece by audience members who have grown indignant during the play, as they gradually come to realize what its carefully woven – and, indeed, heavily dramatized plot – is actually revolving around.

4Spectators who have encountered The Author in one or more of the different stops of its UK and/or international tour will know what has also been well documented in academic criticism as well as in reviews of the play since the early stages of its contact with an audience: there is a wide range of expressed emotions and responses to the play. Indeed, when publicly vocalized, this holds the potential of shaping not only the reacting individual’s but also everyone else’s theatre experience and their afterthoughts following performance. How a certain audience member might respond to the play during the show is going to stay with us permanently, inextricable part of how we will proceed to think of the piece and its potentiality before an audience, but also as text, on the page. As artefact, that is, of a contemporary theatre tradition of radical formal experimentation that shows no signs of slowing down and is now visibly moving its narrative into new and unexpected directions, attacking even what once seemed untouchable in terms of the givens of form and content. What we do not have a full understanding of, on the other hand, is how vocalized afterthoughts, comments made to company members, for example, after the end of the performance, perhaps even overheard but certainly not forming part of any conventionalized, semi-formal context such as even a post-show talk, are interpreted by the company. How they linger in their frame of perception. How they may hold the power of informing their understanding of the play, or their approaches to their characters. Just what kind of afterlife does The Author have for cast and audience? We know that it has had a long staging trajectory. Can we also argue, perhaps, that it can claim, through its breaking of traditional patterns, a more enduring place in our collective audience imagination? That it survives as vague reference, as a hovering performance piece that has never quite taken place, never exhausted into action and, hence, always carries its full potentiality with it in a more potent way? In this respect, can it be suggested that The Author achieves a similar kind of affect to, for example, Martin Crimp’s Attempts on Her Life (1997) or Fewer Emergencies (2002; 2005), or Sarah Kane’s Crave (1998) or 4.48 Psychosis (2000)? Does it possess the tools to assert for itself a place within such a context, to haunt our perceptual conceptualizations to such a degree?

5The answer is not entirely straightforward and, with plays as complex as these, nor should we expect it to be so. On a primary level, it might be argued that these are actually very different plays, not simply on the basis that Crimp and Kane’s work occupies a different space by means of the stage-scapes it produces but also because The Author does quite a different thing: it situates the audience at the centre of the theatrical act in a physical manner. Certainly, so do these other, above-mentioned plays in terms of the images they generate, but in the case of The Author we are also dealing with the practical issue of body positioning. The barrier between performer and spectator, that is, is broken in a different way from the start. What all these plays have, at least phenomenally, in common, is their open form. Again, though, Crouch creates and delivers something markedly different from Crimp and Kane: the impression that the audience can actively influence the course of the text. However, as Crouch himself has clarified and I will go on to discuss, not to the extent that we might imagine. That is, the text will ultimately continue regardless of what the spectator’s intentions may be. There is a process to follow, one that is both scripted and necessary, which cannot be violated, altered, ceased or, barring any acts of physical violence against the cast, irretrievably derailed. In that case, then, it is important to begin probing the issue of the voice: whose voice ultimately matters? Is it the author’s or the audience’s? As for the distinction between the two, is it entirely clear? In a play whose form, deliberately perhaps, is set to immediately strike us as almost unprecedentedly liberal in its malleability, does the spectator’s voice really carry as much power as we might originally imagine? Can it ever really be claimed that it has the power of delivering actual blows to the play, or of posing any persistent questions that the play must inevitably occupy with in the course of performance, thereby redefining itself, if the audience’s responses are never really inscribed into the piece in any real way despite their variance? At the end, in a play that through its form and content can easily be construed as a full-bodied, vocalized provocation against the concept of author and authorial intention, as well as, of course, author-ity, can it actually be proven that plot-driven action plays any less of a significant role than in any more traditionally conceived and executed play that does not work under this semblance? Whereas Crouch’s piece may encourage the belief that spectatorial intention openly rivals the authorial one, could we suggest that, in practice and, especially, considering the content and structure of the playtext, it in fact functions to re-instate ‘the author’ – a concept that in recent decades has arguably been one of, if not the most openly embattled critical construct – at the very heart of the text?

6To be able to attempt a form of answer to such questions it will be helpful to take a closer look at the play and, particularly, the ways in which voice is employed to produce the narrative, to establish the space of interaction, as well as to implicate spectators in the act of both commenting and imagining during the course of performance. The Author is built on four characters/protagonists: Tim (played by Tim Crouch), Esther (Esther Smith, as previously stated), Vic (Vic Llewellyn) and, in the performance I saw, which was, as mentioned previously, late in the play’s run, Chris (Chris Goode), who had replaced Adrian (Adrian Howells) in the role of the theatre-devoted fan who speaks enthusiastically about performance, with an almost childlike naïveté – at least for parts of the play. The remaining characters are all portraying members of the company: Vic and Esther are actors, whereas Tim is the playwright. Even though in this carefully pieced-together play I never felt any kind of reservation or doubt as to whether any of the cast members were playing themselves – it was very clear from the beginning that these were actors, thoughtfully placed amongst the audience to produce a certain kind of narrative – still, we cannot talk of the notion of character in the traditional sense. On the one hand, Crouch’s choice to name his protagonists after his cast members’ actual names might seem a bit too obvious as a device; an attempt to steer the audience into illusions of verisimilitude, to be precise. Perhaps this is something that one needs to watch the play to experience, something eerie that emerges in the presence of the actors, the audience and in the act of sharing the theatre space, but I hesitate to argue that we can reduce Crouch’s decision to something as simplistic as all that. There are moments when the most disturbing aspects of the material that the company handles in its discourse, the unmasked violence that seems to be affecting all of them, albeit in different ways, or Tim’s terrible transgression revealed in the finale of the play, create an all too unstable performance environment. In those moments the actors’ voices, these personae who have been familiarizing themselves with the audience, and then went on to share intimate stories on life and creative practice, reach a point of transitioning into the sinister. As James Frieze suggests, it is the feeling of ‘we had a lovely chat before your character does all those horrible things’ (Bottoms 2011, 430). It is a markedly different place that we suddenly find ourselves in as audience and makes for a difficult performance moment. Certainly, we can theoretically walk away at any moment – but there is something in verbal narration unaccompanied by physical enacting or any type of visual complementation that manages to sustain the play. There is something in following these voices as they come to construct the narrative, shared amongst them, dependent both on one another and on the audience, that functions to make this a full experience that perpetuates in its self-narrativity.

7There are also many moments of accentuating the importance of the voice as primary medium in the play – it is reinforced in the dialogue itself through specific inclusions to terms that point to its significance. ‘I’ll shut up. I’ll stop’ says Chris early on, to curtail his own over-enthusiasm at what theatrical representation can achieve, as he marvels about the space and atmosphere in the auditorium (Crouch 2009; 2010, 19). When he comes to describe specifically where that special feeling originates, he achieves this with a very memorable sentence, which in itself underlines the anonymity that often comes with many different types of performances, even pieces that include participation – another aspect of contemporary theatre that The Author takes on. Beyond that anonymity, we are now dealing with the potentiality of being an audience member: of what can happen to you, rather than in spite of you. As Chris says: ‘Waiting for someone to talk to us! Really talk!’ (Ibid., 22). The voice, here, becomes a vehicle of articulating both the vagueness of everyday experience and the optimism that theatre really does have the power to transform lives. It is also that very medium through which the moment itself that Chris talks about comes to be produced in performance. The voice has a dual role: it is both Chris’ the actor’s and Chris’ the pretend audience member’s. This is one of many cleverly crafted moments in the play, where something that is at the same time a basic performance resource and the most immediate tool in the theatre, human speech, acquires a haunting duality in a seemingly simple succession of short sentences. Just as Chris’ speech has established the atmosphere in just a few short moments and the audience is still waiting for ‘action’ to begin in full lights and motionless awkwardness, Chris’ patience is tested as the event that he is so anxiously calling for is not ‘taking place’. Exasperated, especially since a – scripted – walkout has already taken place, he demands: ‘You say something then!’ closely followed by: ‘YOU FUCKING SAY SOMETHING!!!’ (Ibid., 23). Already, in these early moments of the play we have the framing of the audience experience: through raw statements like these, the character of Chris sets the tone for the entire performance. There is going to be a degree of unpredictability; of unsettling; of disturbing the linear narrative; of bearing witness to different kinds of abuse. Of course, it is also implicit in Chris’ statements that we are never going to see any of this. It will all be narrated to us, as actors – in their characters – prompt one another to speak, in a narrative mode that, ultimately, dangerously blurs the boundaries not between the fictional and the biographical, but between the theatrical and the meta-theatrical – not merely in the sense of a play within the play, but in the sense of critical discourse developing around performance as part of it.

8Chris’ verbal outburst forms the basis for Helen Freshwater’s thoughtful and topical critical response to the piece. In her text she takes on the very question of audience participation, alluded to earlier. It is a major issue for a play where the performer’s voice acts as invitation to the spectators to enter the performance field themselves, this time not as onlookers, not even as individual entities in the auditorium who are experiencing a range of thoughts and emotions yet are likely to remain silent throughout, but as speakers. Questions of participation have, therefore, understandably formed a major part of the critical dialogue which has developed around the play. As Freshwater argues, participation is a term all too easily attributed to performance events that may declare to engender it but, in fact, fail to actually establish it (Freshwater 2011, 405). In The Author, however, Freshwater suggests, spectators are encouraged into a heightened sense of participation, in which decision making as to which course of action to take is a continuous part of the process: ‘[i]t reminds them [spectators] that they can leave, and that the convention of respectful silence is just that: a convention’ (Ibid., 409). Indeed, this is a play where what we come to think of as acceptable and unacceptable in relation to the use of voice in performance, whether in narrativity or response, comes to be dramatically reconsidered. It could even be argued that, if not the most important, then this is certainly one of the most significant contributions that The Author makes to the contemporary stage. It is not, then, only a question of how much uncomfortable aural content we may be subjected to as audience. It is also a question of being invited to talk back, or, as Freshwater aptly puts this, ‘the performers who sat amongst the many different audiences [...] know, much better than most, the risks and potentials involved in opening a dialogue with individual audience members’ (Ibid., 409). If the individual spectator is actively encouraged to talk back, there is no guarantee as to what they may choose to say, or what their motive may be. Not unlike authorial intentionality, audience intentionality is also an ambiguous territory in critical discourse. What are our motivations for coming to see a play? What drives our decisions? What objectives do these decisions serve? In the case of a performance event like The Author, to what extent might we feel that the provocation articulated for us by the cast members may not be met with an ‘unruly’ audience vocal response, outside the frame of conventions, simply because the challenge has been extended? After all, not all audience members will share in the performers’ goal – to provide spectators with a robust and viable piece of theatre that may not always have a beginning, middle and end, but has a structure and is attempting to serve a purpose nonetheless. Audience members may choose to be verbally provocative themselves, to unpredictable effects – simply because they have been afforded this unusual power. The Author, ultimately, has the ability, or, at least, potential, to set in motion an entire debate on voice as tool and weapon in contemporary theatre. This would not be dissimilar to what we observe in, for example, the work of Harold Pinter or David Mamet, playwrights whose theatre has repeatedly opened up a range of possibilities for the deployment of language as physical medium.

9To what degree, however, can we propose, not in principle, but in actuality, that there is the potential for The Author to become displaced from its main plot nexus and outside its frame of reference on the basis of unpredictable audience participation? Crouch emphasizes the fact that in order to truly be capable of participating in the piece perceptually, the audience member needs to invest themselves in an act of active listening that requires commitment throughout the length of performance (Bottoms 2011, 424). It could be argued, following Crouch’s suggestion, that if a spectator fails to commit to this process, the premise and outcome of the play are at palpable risk. Any response that an audience member may produce if they have been disengaged for part of performance runs the risk of achieving no impact at all – it may be spoken in vain, essentially out of context. Crouch brings another dimension to this consideration when he adds that ‘[u]nless the audience listen, then we’re in danger – this play can veer off into strange places’ (Ibid., 424). While this is undoubtedly a valid observation and concern on the theatremaker’s part, it is not the only issue here. Though the play seemingly supports spontaneous spectatorial response, it is necessary to consider to what extent audience responses might be seen to conform to a specific frame and context, within a predetermined range of reference and subject matter, for which the performer’s voice will merely act as prompt. If we take this to be a likely scenario, then, though the individually vocalized responses may differ in terms of their verbal matter, their overall meaning and effect will be broadly the same. It will also be one that the cast members are in a position to readily anticipate so as to be able to proceed with their show.

10Crouch discusses his experience of bold audience comments that have led to an urge, on the part of the cast, to interrupt the standard flow of the performance and become the ones who will now talk back to that individual spectator, responding to the challenge and allowing the evening to enter the arena of public exchange rather than theatrical narrative (Ibid., 425). It could certainly happen, considering the contentious verbal material of the play. However, Crouch insists, ‘we don’t do that. We will not stop. We are absolutely rigid about that, because I think that’s doing a disservice to the integrity of the text’ (Ibid., 425). As Goode phrases it, ‘we’ve had to answer back on two or three occasions – but I think we were kind of forced into those moments because we couldn’t have continued unless we shut those moments down. We don’t slam, but we do shut’ (Ibid., 427). If this strikes us too much as an assertion of the performer’s authority through the deployment of voice as vehicle for power, then we might also consider that it is equally likely to view this as an attempt, in one of those moments that Goode talks about, on the part of certain audience members to exert authority not only on the cast but on fellow audience members too. Is the act of disrupting performance by vocalizing emotion not a way of implying that one spectator’s feelings, views or instincts on The Author ought to take priority over those of anyone else sharing the performance experience? Is this not a potential fracture to the democracy of performance in itself?

11Crouch discusses one extreme – certainly compared to the relatively tame experience that I had of the play, amongst a fairly responsive, yet largely reticent in reactions audience – example, of a female spectator who openly verbalized her feelings of repugnance against the cast, walking out in a strong physical act that complemented the intensity of the verbal act she had just committed (Ibid., 426). Her decision to walk out on the show, of course, meant that she could no longer be part of the dialogue; that she would not have exposure to that, which the remaining audience members were yet to see. Also, though she had deprived everyone else in the performance space of her physical presence, they, cast and spectators, would have had their experience of that performance, on that specific evening, forever marked by that act of indignation. Anything that the cast had left to say, and the audience to listen and think about, had been, consciously or not, conditioned by this. This is the kind of importance that individual voice carries in this play – especially when it is used, as Goode observes, at a moment when it has the capacity to deliver a genuine injury to performance (Ibid., 426). Even if cast members can control the directions and dimensions that the dialogue takes, they can never ultimately shield themselves or the majority of spectators from this type of reaction. Ultimately, power and authority slips away from their grasp a little.

12However, when it comes to less vocally expressive audiences, such as the one that I happened to be part of, the way in which The Author is structured does allow some space for criticism as to how shared the experience of listening and expression realistically is throughout the piece. Such questions necessarily go hand in hand with issues relating to the actual degree of participation, in a way that guarantees an equal relationship between cast and audience, without the former being in a position of authority. Carole-Anne Upton has specifically posed such issues to the creative team of The Author in the context of academic discussion (Ibid., 425). Liz Tomlin has expressed an equally valid concern: specifically, once the play has opened the pathway of vocal communication during performance, does that not entail that the cast ought to be in a position to take on anything that might occur within this set of circumstances of an experience, as it comes to unfold (Ibid., 427)? These are issues which, I would propose, are crucial to our understanding both of what The Author has the potential to achieve in performance and of the likely hindrances in achieving a truly interactive state of exchange in the theatre, where cast and audience share a common ground both in the sense of space and in what they can and cannot say. To argue that The Author is a safe experience for either audience or cast is not accurate, but is it wholly inapplicable to suggest that the play has the potential of being, depending on performance variables, but also the form of the text itself – since certain developments are explicitly, or implicitly, ‘written in’ – a safer experience for cast rather than audience? It is such concerns that force the issue of critically examining the framework of postdramatic theatre discourse, as has been applied to text-driven theatre. They are an invitation to question how viable it is for even the most open and radical of plays, which do not seemingly adhere to the rules of representation as we have known them in more traditional theatre, to escape the structure of the text, since such a thing not only exists, but conditions the outcome of performance.

13In The Author and in all its characters’ narration there is always the potentiality of vocal aggression, even in subdued or cheerful voice, sometimes bringing about a striking clash when given to content that is expressly disturbing or shocking once it takes root in out mind’s eye. One character, Vic, emerges as particularly aggressive. It is assigned to him to flesh out one of the main issues not only for this play, but performance in general, and especially contemporary performance of an immersive nature. His lines emanate the artist’s problematizing of theatre practice, his/her self-questioning and the urgency of reaching out to and involving the audience. They also reveal the risks implicit in the failure to do so, in trusting the next line with someone who may or may not choose to speak it, indeed to engage with what has just been said:

VIC. [...] the most important thing is to know who you’re speaking it to.
To whom you’re speaking it. Do you understand?
You can’t just say, oh, I’m speaking it to myself. Or, I’m thinking out loud.
Or, I’m just talking to ‘an audience’ in ‘a theatre’! You can’t just pick a spot
above the audience’s head and deliver it in the middle distance! You have to
give the audience a character, a relationship to you. [...] Something has to be
at stake for the audience. They have to maybe need convincing of something,
or persuading of something or rousing or enlisting. Imagine them as a child
or – or a confessor. Enlisting is a good one! I’m enlisting you! [...]
(Crouch 2009; 2010, 25).

14Vic’s lines reveal the extent of the performer’s investment in the audience, in a manner that serves to underline the dual function of The Author, that is, its simultaneous status as a product both of the actual and the meta-theatrical. Specifically, Vic, inhabiting that same moment as the audience members that he is sat amongst, is both experiencing it as Vic, the character who needs to say these lines that have been given to him so as to advance the plot of the play, and Vic, the performer, who, by saying these lines, discloses something crucial about the character of the play itself and delivers to the spectators a task, the role they are entrusted with throughout the show. More than anything, of course, Vic’s lines stand out because of their intuitive content when it comes to broaching the issue of the audience, its conceptualization and treatment in modern-day performance, or the effort to incorporate it into the narrative rather than consciously – or not – attempt to exclude it by reducing it to an anonymous mass.

15The Author is certainly not the only contemporary play attuned to such concerns – it simply adopts a more ‘extrovert’ way of demonstrating the motivation in progress, by means of its dramaturgical process and involvement with its spectators. We often hear about how important it is to ‘know your audience’. What The Author draws attention to is knowing that there actually is an audience, sophisticated enough to pick up on the devices the play deploys, inhabiting a body and mind that is more than a space filler inside the auditorium – more than a numb, decontextualized observer. The choice of a verb like ‘enlisting’ functions to communicate the action that drives this relationship: the fact that we, too, are expected to perform our part and that in order to do so we must enlist our bodies to participate in the narrative – even without the aid of visual stimulus. If the play fails, or fails to achieve its potential, it is not only the responsibility of the author, the cast, the director, or the text itself, but of the audience as well. Listening and speaking are not part of a polite request, but of an imperative proposition. This is the kind of theatre that deals in the urgency of the voice.

16‘What do you think?’ then, is the one phrase that seems to sum up The Author more than any other. That it is a question as direct as one can be, accompanied by a fixity of the gaze and the necessary vocal momentum to carry it through is only fitting for a play that manages to sustain its narrative by and, indeed, not despite of relying on its spectators quite heavily. It is a clever and well-crafted piece of theatre, masterfully executed, proving, we should not forget, how much depth contemporary performance can achieve with only basic resources. It is the kind of play that reinforces the fact that, in order to ‘do’ theatre, we really may not need much more than performers, their voices, a decent script and the audience members. But the importance of those audience members needs to be heightened – imbued with respect and an understanding of just how much rests with them. Failure can happen to any play: any play can not deliver, not extend those bridges of meaningful interactivity and perceptive potentiality to its audience. What makes The Author a special play, one that we keep talking about, is that it dares to publicly expose itself to this risk. Because if Tim’s statement, relayed by Vic, above, that the spectator needs to be brought at a certain condition of feeling s/he can and perhaps even should speak, feels like an act of guiding, it is also helpful to remember that for a lot of what we are invited to witness on the stage we wish we could talk back – and we are never given the chance. Perhaps the active listening that comes with The Author is a great metaphor for the tactic that we need to enforce in all our theatergoing – whether or not we are expected to answer to someone, we will always need to answer to ourselves, against our own spectatorial passivity.

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BOTTOMS, Stephen. ‘A Conversation about Dialogue (Symposium Voices)’.

     Contemporary Theatre Review 21. 4 (2011): 423-30.  

CRIMP, Martin. Attempts on Her Life. London: Faber and Faber, 1997.

—. Fewer Emergencies. London: Faber and Faber, 2005.

CROUCH, Tim. The Author. London: Oberon, 2009; 2010.

FRESHWATER, Helen. ‘“You Say Something”: Audience Participation and The Author’.

     Contemporary Theatre Review 21. 4 (2011): 405-09.    

KANE, Sarah. Complete Plays. London: Methuen, 2001.

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Vicky Angelaki, « Whose Voice? Tim Crouch’s The Author and Active Listening on the Contemporary Stage », Sillages critiques [En ligne], 16 | 2013, mis en ligne le 10 juillet 2013, consulté le 29 mars 2017. URL :

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Vicky Angelaki

University of Birmingham
Vicky Angelaki is Lecturer in Drama at the Department of Drama and Theatre Arts, University of Birmingham, UK. Her research focuses on contemporary British theatre, critical and performance theory (especially phenomenology), aesthetics and politics. She is the author of The Plays of Martin Crimp: Making Theatre Strange published by Palgrave Macmillan (2012). She is currently editing a collection of essays, Contemporary British theatre: Breaking New Ground, also for Palgrave Macmillan (2013).
Vicky Angelaki est Maître de Conférences au département d’études théâtrales de l’université de Birmingham au Royaume-Uni. Sa recherche se concentre sur le théâtre anglais contemporain dans sa dimension esthétique, politique et phénoménologique. Elle est l’auteur d’une monographie, The Plays of Martin Crimp: Making Theatre Strange, parue chez Palgrave Macmillan en  2012. Elle dirige actuellement un ouvrage collectif, Contemporary British theatre: Breaking New Ground, à paraître en 2013 chez le même éditeur.

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  • Les cahiers de