Since its first appearance at the Traverse during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2003, Tim Crouch’s My Arm has captivated audiences all over the world. An award-winning production, it has been lauded for the ways it challenges theatrical conventions and the art of storytelling. Now adapted for a digital stage, Crouch brings his first play to a new audience, though struggles to have the same impact as he did 18 years ago.
My Arm tells the story of a boy who one day decided to raise his arm above his head – and kept it there for over 25 years. An obstinate child, constantly in competition with his older brother, Crouch’s protagonist revels in people’s reactions to his act of defiance. However, as the years pass and his sense of power is replaced by pain and numbness, he cannot seem to let go of the past.
While My Arm was successfully adapted to radio back in 2006, this production suffers by not being in a theatre with a live audience. In the original production, Crouch would ask the audience for things they had with them – in their pockets, their bags – to symbolise the key players in his story. In this instance, Crouch asked early audiences to send in pictures of anything and everything, which then appeared on-screen whenever their associated character would appear. Unfortunately, the delay in the images appearing, and the poor quality as well, does not have the same impact as Crouch holding up the objects in front of him. Instead, they become distracting and add very little to what Crouch’s “Arm Boy” tells us.
Similarly, there are moments where Crouch recreates moments from the boy’s childhood such as Great Silence of 1973, where he sits in silence staring at the screen for almost five minutes. While this prolonged silence would’ve had audience members uncomfortably wriggling in their seats – unable to look away or do anything else – at home, it’s all too easy to lose interest and look at your phone in the interlude (or even skip ahead).
Even though it may not be wholly suitable for an online performance, My Arm still manages to keep its audience invested through Crouch’s knack for storytelling. The sheer absurdity of the boy’s stubbornness, particularly as his arm begins to atrophy and rot, wills you to hear the story out to see how it ends. And as he begins to lose control over his situation, exploited by those around him, you can’t help but pity the fictional figure.
“Art is anything you can get away with” is one of a number of comments made by Crouch, not-so-subtly addressing the artifice of theatre. While this adaptation of My Arm may not have the same lasting impression as its first iteration, there is no doubt that Crouch can still engage an audience.