A little over halfway through Shakespeare’s King Lear, the mad monarch’s Fool disappears from the action. It has intrigued academics and theatre-makers for centuries, with some speculating that the character is simply no longer needed, others that he has been killed, possibly by Lear himself, as happened in Sam Mendes’s 2014 production at the National Theatre. In Tim Crouch’s latest show, Lear’s Fool becomes the jumping-off point for an intriguing and sometimes disturbing exploration of theatre and society and the violence within them both.

In calm, soothing tones, Crouch himself addresses the audience in the bare, utilitarian setting of a modern rehearsal studio at Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum. His plays are often concerned with the materialism of theatre – how we are affected by the actual space and environment where we watch a show. For part of the time, he wears a virtual reality headset, making us think he is on stage at a large-scale production of Lear, playing the Fool, looking out at the audience and silently witnessing the action.

His calmness belies the increasingly violent images he describes to us, initially in King Lear, with its eye-gouging scene, but then more generally, questioning our tolerance of the horrors of modern life. The show’s title comes from early on in Shakespeare’s play when Lear threatens the Fool with being treated like a dog for speaking the truth, and Crouch’s bleak vision of society and its amoral leaders is speaking truth to power (even if it is, in the moment, speaking truth only to a presumably liberal audience at the Edinburgh Fringe). Crouch’s play prompts the question of whether we respond to this, like the Fool, by giving up and quitting but, as he ponders this in front of an engaged audience in a theatre, the answer seems to be that we cannot help but stick around, even if it is just as morally numbed observers.

Truth’s a Dog Must to Kennel runs at the Lyceum Studio as part of Edinburgh Fringe until 28 August 2022. Tickets at lyceum.org.uk and edfringe.com.