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Tim and Nel Crouch - Adler and Gibb and Fossils

When Tim Crouch brought his show The Author to the Traverse Theatre in 2010 as part of that year's Edinburgh Festival Fringe, his dissection of the right to be offensive onstage provoked several walk-outs. While this was in part a conscious provocation for such a reaction, the fact that Crouch's then teenage daughter Nel was ushering the show gave things an extra edge that neither have forgotten.

“I used to have all these irate members of the audience going 'This is appalling',” Crouch senior remembers, “and Nel had to stand there, and all she probably wanted to say was 'That's my Dad.'”

For Nel Crouch, it is the very first Traverse performance of The Author that she remembers.

“About a third of the audience left,” she says. “I've no idea why that was, because it was never that many again, but there is this plant at the start of the show who walks out, so that sort of invites it, and then if people do it means the show is kind of working.”

Six years on, and both Crouch's return to Edinburgh, as Tim Crouch stages a new production of his play, Adler and Gibb, first seen in 2014 at the Royal Court in London, while Nel, no longer ushering, is premiering her play, Fossils, which uses a backdrop of the Loch Ness Monster to explore the idea of people disappearing.

“We were thinking about mythology,” says Nel Crouch, “and the story of the Loch Ness Monster is the biggest myth of all, so we came up with a story about a biologist whose father disappeared when he was searching for the Monster, and we use that as a metaphor for a missing person.”

Adler and Gibb, meanwhile, is ostensibly about a young couple moving into a Scooby Doo style run-down house, but which switches time zones to a decade earlier when a performance art duo lived in the house. Such a description doesn't really do justice to Crouch's biggest theatrical experiment to date.

“You know, my work really lasts forever,” Crouch says of his revival of the play, inadvertently summing up his entire approach to theatre as he goes.

“I've never really seen the point of doing something that you rehearse for three weeks, it has a run and then it's done. Adler and Gibb took five years to put together, and I have a huge investment in this.”

It's an approach that seems to have rubbed off on his daughter, whose work ranges from a pub theatre take on David Greig's play, Yellow Moon, to an all female version of Romeo and Juliet performed by a company who travel the country on bicycles. Crouch's last Edinburgh outing was with her play, Lorraine and Alan, which was a contemporary exploration of the selkie myth, another nautical-based story told to her her by her father, and which has clearly left its mark. Crouch also brought her production of Sabrina Mahfouz's play, The Love I Feel is Red, initiated at the Tobacco Factory in Bristol, to Oran Mor in Glasgow earlier this year as part of A Play, A Pie and A Pint.

Tim Crouch's own work has woven a quiet but wilfully singular trail through the theatrical landscape ever since he performed his first script, My Arm, at the Traverse in 2003. This followed a career that began with him studying drama at Bristol University, where he formed the Public Parts company with his wife Julia, presenting a series of devised shows in offbeat venues. After stints acting in New York and London, Crouch began to make his own work. This included the Herald Angel winning An Oak Tree in 2005, while two years later Crouch was awarded a Herald Archangel for consistent excellence during the Edinburgh run of his show, England.

With theatre a constant presence around Nel and the rest of the family as they were growing up, it was perhaps inevitable that she would follow suit.

“I'm sure growing up around theatre all the time helped,” Crouch says, “but I was torn between doing theatre or art. My dad used to do summer rep I New York, and I'd go and see the shows ten times during the run, and that's what got me interested.”

Like her father, Crouch too went to Bristol University, where she also co-founded a theatre company, Bucket Club, with whom she will be presenting Fossils.

“After I left Uni I was working out what I wanted to do,” she says, “and if there's one thing I learnt off my old dad it's to just go off and do something. That's what he did when he was in his thirties with My Arm, and that's how everything started for him. It's a bit lame doing exactly the same as him by going to Bristol to do drama and then forming a company, but I love it as well. I wish I could see something they did and compare it with what we're doing.”

Even without first hand experience of his formative work, Crouch is a fan of her father's work, and is looking forward to seeing his new take on Adler and Gibb.

“He's constantly interrogating what acting is and what theatre is,” she points out, “and in Adler and Gibb he's just reducing it and reducing it.”

In terms of how her own work might have influenced her father, and Crouch is more circumspect.

“I don't think it has,” she says. “I'm a lot younger than him, I've not done much, and he's so picky and has opinions on stuff.”

Her father points out that “Nel and I will probably never work together. She's doing something very similar to me in terms of narrative, and I wish her real luck, because I know how hard it is, but she's having a real apprenticeship in Edinburgh in terms of fifteen people living on top of each other and all of that. But I don't feel that I've helped her in any way. All I did was be around that culture which she could swim in.”

While Nel Crouch reads her dad's work, she too is resistant to the idea of them working together.

“I can't think of anything much worse than assisting your dad,” she says. “It would be horrible.”

A mutual sense of pride remains, however, which clearly comes from a sense of play that has been key to family life, and which now pulses both their work.

“I love all the stuff my dad does,” she says, “where form and content are as important as each other. I don't know how he does it, but it's clever, but with this rich vein of comedy running through it. He's a silly bugger as well, which definitely comes through.”

As for her father's view of her work, Crouch recognises an inherent intelligence running through it, but he sounds relieved that there is little in the way of angst there.

“Sometimes misery can be a drive to make work,” he says, “but I don't recognise misery as being an engine that drives Nel. As a father, I'm very happy about that.”

Fossils, Pleasance Dome, August 3-29, 2.40-3.50pm; Adler and Gibb, Summerhall, August 3-27, 5.15-6.45pm.

The Herald, July 26th 2016

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