Total Immediate Collective Imminent Terrestrial Salvation review: A read-along adventure to apocalypse

Dublin Theatre Festival: Tim Crouch’s new play compares playwrights to cult leaders and dictators. Are we all on the same page?


Samuel Beckett Theatre
Sitting in two concentric circles, each of us holding hardback books of the performance text, the audience for Tim Crouch's new production resembles either a very obedient classroom or the devout attendance for a religious sermon. To some extent our role is somewhere in between: first made witnesses to a private family upheaval, then cast as eager participants in a doomsday cult on the prophesied day of oblivion. Consider it a read-along adventure towards the apocalypse.

The story, in this case, is not quite as involving as the way it is told. Guided by performers, who urge us to turn the page with the bright instruction "Okay", and Pippa Murphy's densely evocative soundtrack, the vivid graphic-novel illustrations of Rachana Jadhav bring us wordlessly through a family tragedy, then flick forward and backwards through environmental catastrophe and foundation of the secluded cult, as though riffling through the pages of time.

Asked to affirm the quicksand illogic of the guru's prophecies, audience participation resembles game play more than critical reflection

On stage, also bearing books, Susan Vidler and Shyvonne Ahmmad play the deprogrammed mother who has come to rescue her indoctrinated daughter. But following the actions set down for them, like actors who can't get off book, this sacred text remains in control.

Crouch, well cast in the role of cult leader, isn’t discreet about his parallels: “Playwrights are also leaders – dictators even,” reads his programme note, considering both occupations “spinners of narrative”. The performance serves a little glibly to illustrate it. Asked to affirm the quicksand illogic of the guru’s prophecies, audience participation resembles game play more than critical reflection. The Kool-Aid of such participation, though, makes an analogous point about the play-acting acquiescence, or zealotry, of followers.


As a consideration of how narratives are spun in different mediums, the National Theatre of Scotland production resembles the fascinations of its festival colleague My Words in Your Mouth, or the previous literary immersions Waves and Gatz, all of which pursued performative means to simulate the imaginative absorption of literature. That Crouch compares his own fictive strategies to the darkest manipulations of politics seems bleakly grandiose, though. That such spells, good and bad, can be more easily broken, as the play also suggests, puts us all on the same page.

Runs until Sunday, October 6th, as part of Dublin Theatre Festival