ADLER & GIBB / Tim Crouch and the Royal Court Theatre

Tim Crouch’s play Adler & Gibb looks centrally at society’s obsession with the story behind the story, showing something between an artist’s journey to understand her character and an invasive, even violent, emotional grave robbery. An actor, Louise, and her acting coach have come to the Grey-Gardens-inspired home of famed and reclusive artists Adler and Gibb, only to find the circumstances of their reclusion to be different then suspected. Louise is relentless – reminiscent of the portrayal of Capote in Miller’s 2006 film, waiting impatiently for his subject’s death to finish In Cold Blood – and a clear archetype for our obsession with celebrities (even hip, arty, off-kilter celebrities) and the expectations for all people to fully explain their comings and goings to just about everyone.

In his classic essay ‘The Death of the Author’ (1967), Barthes wrote about the problems inherent in allowing a writer’s autobiography to dictate how a piece of work is received by its audience. Such a practice exists today – we retrospectively diagnose Vincent Van Gogh or Chopin with any sort of mental health disorder, see Abraham Lincoln’s homosexuality in his policy decisions, we reread all of David Bowie’s final album as, exclusively, an extended pre-death ritual. Although such a practice might normalize different experiences through history – thus making new role models for us – there is also a danger in the disempowering idea that certain illnesses, lives, problems and struggles automatically lead to any number of specific outcomes. This is put into sharp relief in Adler & Gibb when Louise’s presumptions about the lives of her role models are discovered as wildly inaccurate.

 *Spoiler Alert. The following contains a spoiler for those yet to see the show, but the following is The Sick of the Fringe part*

When Louise realizes that her hero was not in fact in an abusive, reclusive relationship and, instead, someone slowly dying (perhaps of early-onset dementia, it’s not quite clear), the play resonates with the recent – and unexpected – deaths of David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Victoria Wood. But it is not only celebrities who sometimes crave privacy after the diagnosis of an illness; society’s inability to deal with bereavement, disability and difference in public space may make the withdrawal from public life by those dealing with illness themselves even more justified. The view that illness is something that one should be ashamed of, or the view that illness is something which burdens others, is individualistic and, in fact, ableist in its construction. While we don’t need to force Adler to share her illness with the public, we wish she would have known that we would support her however she needed. But then, of course, society has to do that work of not being ableist dicks…. And this might be a long time coming.  (BL)

Adler & Gibb, by Tim Crouch, 3-27 August (not 8, 15, 22), Summerhall, BSL interpreted shows available -

In Theory – ‘The Death of the Author’ -

Dr. Richard Kogan – Rachmaninoff and His Psychiatry -

On Capote and In Cold Blood -

David Bowie’s Death Is A Reminder of the Sanctity of a Private Life -

RSA Animates: Barbara Ehrenreich’s Smile or Die -