Tim Crouch
Credit: Eoin Carey

5 Minutes with Theatre-maker Tim Crouch

Marking its 50th anniversary this year, BS Johnson’s celebrated novel House Mother Normal is given a digital reinterpretation by renowned Brighton based theatre-maker Tim Crouch.

Set within a care home, a group of elderly residents each recall their past and narrate their terrifying present, in a series of monologues directed in a new film by Crouch. Brighton Festival and theatre company New Perspectives present the world premiere online from Wed 5 May and in a special physical installation in a Dukes Lane shop from Mon 17 May.

Tim has been making work with Brighton Festival since 2003 and tells us more about this timely new presentation of Johnson’s work for 2021. 

What inspired this new interpretation of House Mother Normal?

I feel a deep affinity with BS Johnson. He pushed at the edges of form, constantly reinventing the possibilities of the written word. He was hugely ambitious in what he was trying to do and struggled to get the recognition he deserved. This is an opportunity to revisit his work and recognise its importance.

As a theatre-maker, I’ve never worked on an existing novel before. Theatre is not a literary form. But I think that what we’re doing with House Mother Normal is actually honouring the reach of Johnson’s book. He writes about one moment in time from nine different angles. In our installation, we’re able to place all those angles on top of one another and find a perspective of the whole. 

The quality of his writing is both sublime and disturbing. His subject is old age and he’s unflinching and also riotously rude and funny. He writes about it with such a sympathetic understanding, but without an ounce of sentimentality. He’s vicious at times as well as heart-breaking.

House Mother Normal

House Mother Normal - Site Specific

A digital installation inspired by BS Johnson's celebrated novel, directed by Tim Crouch.

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How would you describe House Mother Normal

Symphonic. Brazen. Haunting.

What do you hope people will take away from House Mother Normal

The power of the group transcends individual stories. This is an orchestra of voices, not a series of solos. I hope the audience can release themselves into this extraordinary polyphony. I hope they feel haunted by the glimpses of the lives they encounter.

I also hope they’ll have a new appreciation for BS Johnson.

Finally, what do you love about Brighton?

I can’t think of a better place to have been in lockdown. The sea. The hills. The light. I’ve discovered new walks, new paths, and new views. My love for Brighton has deepened in the last 12 months and I’m delighted that my first project out of lockdown is happening here. 

I’ve been making work with Brighton Festival since 2003. As a freelancer, it’s great to feel so connected to the place where you live.