Total Immediate Collective Imminent Terrestrial Salvation review – cult theatre | Stage



And, lo, as it was foretold, Tim Crouch came to work with the National Theatre of Scotland. As it is written in the scriptures, he arrived empty-handed, with neither set nor props, to present a show about a messianic cult leader at the end of days. As the prophets set down, he required the audience to gather, congregation-like, in a big circle, as if we too were readying ourselves for the apocalypse. In accordance with the sacred texts, we thumbed our way through the hardback book left on our chairs. It was called Total Immediate Collective Imminent Terrestrial Salvation and we saw that it was good.

The conceit, in this formally adventurous show, is that the Bible-like book in our hands, captivatingly illustrated in pencil sketches by Rachana Jadhav, is the same book determining the actions of Sol, a young girl brought up in a closed community after some environmental disaster. Played with openness and heart by Shyvonne Ahmmad, she has been indoctrinated to believe nothing will happen unless it has been set down in these pages.

Shyvonne Ahmmad as Sol.

Openness and heart … Shyvonne Ahmmad as Sol. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian

It’s a deterministic view but, as the book contains the script of the show, it is also the correct one. For as long as the performance takes place, we are not in control of what happens. Not even when the audience takes turns to play the parts of Sol and her estranged mother Anna, played primarily by Susan Vidler with similar guilelessness.

Behind all this is the mood of today’s era of environmental doom. The shamanic cult leader Miles, played by Crouch, claims to have all the answers and, although his scientific reasoning is gobbledygook and the impending eclipse is just an eclipse, his sense of certainty is appealing. The extent to which the play is a warning against blindly following charismatic leaders makes it a statement of the obvious. But, rather like Ontroerend Goed’s Are We Not Drawn Onward to New ErA, it also seems to be articulating a more urgent idea about resisting fatalism, changing things for ourselves and, perhaps, welcoming the happy ending of a post-eclipse dawn.