The set-up of Crisis Meeting is that of a theatre company in a rut. After a number of well-received shows, the company are being criticised for their lack of development. Change is essential, if not inevitable. The three male performers – affable, befuddled, Icelandic – outline their hopes for growth in what is, ostensibly, an Arts Council application. They play versions of themselves but stress that they are far removed from their characters (‘we use our real names, but it is not us.’) If this sounds like being trapped in a live-action Ben Lerner novel – shuffling between the real and unreal, guided by a sonorous male voice – it is not an unfair comparison. Luckily, the end result is less maddening and more likeable.
In fact the three performers, all deadpan delivery and dry one-liners, go to lengths to disguise the seriousness of their intent. Behind the ramshackle staging and the random digressions, Crisis Meeting has a purpose. It is an inquiry into the meaning of art presented as a stand-up show. The downtrodden performers despair at what they see as the modern quest for self-improvement. The gentlest of the group inquires if is there a way to capitalise on this trend – produce art that makes people feel better, feel improved. In a world where we seek out endless amounts of information because we consider ourselves inadequate, is theatre that asks questions redundant? It is entertaining when the performers make sly digs in about our superficial search for self-betterment (‘I don’t know anyone who isn’t a yoga teacher anymore’) but when Crisis Meeting focuses, it can be incredibly sharp and inquiring. Throughout, we are promised that one of the three will be breaking his vow of silence after spending several weeks at a meditation retreat (the retreat is hilariously described as ‘breakfast, meditation, coffee break where we don’t have coffee, more meditation, lunch, more mediation and on and on and on’). When he finally speaks, he voices his frustrations with the life he has chosen – doing nothing to impress anyone, spending long periods away from his son. He decides theatre is a glory-hole: you expose yourself embarrassingly in the hope that there might be someone on the other side enjoying it but, you know, there often isn’t. It’s a clever line and it resonates. The lads have impeccable comic timing, but there’s also a sense of genuine searching at the heart of Crisis Meeting. When one of the performers says, ‘I want to be a deeper character,’ you believe him.