Festival Theatre

Total Immediate Collective Imminent Terrestrial Salvation

The Studio

Neil Cooper

Four stars

If the end of the world actually does turn out to be nigh any day now, one could do worse than spend your last breaths in the company of Tim Crouch’s new creation, brought to life in this National Theatre of Scotland production by a slow-burning surge of the collective imagination. A sacred air is already in place as the audience sit in a circular seating bank, with the same good book placed on each chair. As it turns out, the hardback volume is the script to the play we’re about to take a leap of faith for, suspending disbelief to the point of no return.

There can be no peeking, however, as performer Susan Vidler explains when she enters the circle. Instead, the drama contained therein is to be read and shared page by page by the actors with the audience. Any narrative gaps are writ large by designer Rachana Jadhav’s astonishing graphic novel style drawings that illustrate the book, and which do so much more besides.

The story itself begins with an everyday family tragedy, followed by a mother and child reunion of sorts, and ending with the ultimate stage blackout. It is the delivery of Andy Smith and Karl James’ production in tandem with this that transforms it into something that questions its own existence even as it suggests how, in our own personal story-books, everything is already mapped out. This is Crouch playing God in a far more benevolent way than the beatific cult leader he appears as alongside Vidler and Shyvonne Ahmmad as the daughter.

As fascinatingly calculated as this is, the play is full of heart, with each character attempting to fill the void even as they know they must play out what’s written down in front of them. Pulsed by Pippa Murphy’s washes of sound, Crouch lures us in gently, until we go willingly into the great unknown, left in the dark, believers till the end.