Written and performed by Tim Crouch, My Arm has been receiving rave reviews since its premiere at the Traverse Theatre in the 2003 Edinburgh Festival, and has recently toured to New York before coming to rest in London for a month.
The one-man performance starts with Tim telling the audience “I’m going to hold my breath until I die.” What follows is a simple story-telling exercise, but one so realistic and powerful that it makes ones’ hairs stand on end.
Tim’s story concerns his determination, as a child, to hold his right arm up in the air. A day turns to a week, then a month, then finally 30 years, and eventually the arm becomes a media and art sensation while his body slowly rots from the inside.
Using a variety of borrowed small personal items from the audience (including swimming shorts, umbrellas, travelcards and the like), Crouch introduces us to his dad, mum, bullish older brother and his friend (the producer of the show), interspersed with appearances by a few other characters. To be honest it’s a brilliant story, and – apart from a few character quotes and dialogue climaxes – Crouch tells it to us in a uniform and unwavering pitch, which allows us to concentrate completely on the story and imagine it in our own way.
However, this almost monotonous reporting works best in relation to the character he is acting, as it mirrors perfectly the character’s psychology. Children’s parts very often use dialogue and describe thoughts which adults believe children think, in an almost naive way. Crouch, however, manages to have an acute and perceptive understanding of how his protagonist is thinking and feeling during all of his childhood, especially in the run-up to his decision of lifting his arm in the first place. Told in this way, and strengthened by a realistic thought-process, we have no choice but to believe the story in its entirety, however much we may think it’s improbable.
Do yourself a favour, go see this play. It’s an interesting and illuminating performance, and it may even shed light as to how things you did as a child developed into what you do and who you are now. Brilliant.