Although nowhere near as anarchic, I always think of Tim Crouch as a maverick in the mode of Ken Campbell. I first saw him in the now legendary piece An Oak Tree, a two hander in which the other actor was different every time and had no idea what the play was about or how it was to develop. It was, and still is, a very bold piece of theatre making.
Since 2003, Crouch has written a series of monologues for young people based on minor characters from Shakespeare – Caliban, Peaseblossom, Banquo, Malvolio and Cinna. Just a few weeks ago Crouch revived this last piece based on the unfortunate poet in Julius Caesar who is mistaken for one of the conspirators and torn to pieces by a baying mob. I found it to be an extremely challenging and highly intelligent piece (see review here) and it fuelled me with the desire to see the other pieces in the series. I discovered that I, Malvolio was available online and although filmed rather crudely I found this perhaps an even stronger entry than I, Cinna. Where the latter dealt with themes of political engagement, writing poetry and modern news media, the former was an investigation of the nature of playing a character on stage, mental health and how we interact with our fellow humans (social distancing permitting)
And now here comes the fairy Peaseblossom straight out of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, though with rather more to say for himself than the four lines allotted by Shakespeare. Dressed in slightly absurd rainy-day gear – to reflect the Dream’s many references to bad weather – Crouch lopes around the stage and disappears into the audience trying to make sense of his world.
The setting seems to be Theseus’s palace the day after the wedding; the floor is strewn with confetti and other party detritus , including the mandatory splash of vomit which the fairy is ritually blessing. But poor Peaseblossom is on edge suffering from vivid and disturbing dreams which are then recounted to us. Soon the lines between the fiction of the Shakespeare narrative and the fiction of the fairy’s imagination become blurred and confused. The action of the play seems to be “no more than a dream” but whose dream is it? This play about the power and form of narrative runs through the storyline of Dream – though, as with actual dreams, not necessarily in strict order. Members of the audience are selected to represent Titania, Oberon, and the three pairs of lovers and the Mechanicals are suggested by crude puppets. It gradually dawns that this is just like a small child playing – making up imaginary friends and using unlikely props to represent other people. And indeed, Crouch is asking us to look at events from a childlike perspective and share that child’s fascination with slightly rude words, their joy when things work out and their petulance when they don’t.
Does it work? Mostly – and Crouch as a performer is never less than fascinating to watch especially when he ramps up the improvisation elements. The play was clearly aimed at a younger audience than that targeted by I, Cinna and I, Malvolio both of which I have to say I enjoyed rather more. The actual filming is taken from one fixed camera and is from quite a few years ago so technologically it left something to be desired. I was thankful for the relative brevity of the piece but glad that it had been captured for posterity so that I can continue to watch these unusual and stimulating pieces. Tim has already let me know that a recording of I, Banquo is in the pipeline so I shall be watching out for that.
If you’re under “house arrest” with an eight to ten-year-old who knows the Dream or you enjoy Shakespeare’s work yourself, this might prove a fascinating diversion. The video of I, Peaseblossom is available here. For teenagers you might also want to check out I, Malvolio (available here) and I, Cinna (available here). The former is Tim Crouch performing his own script whereas the latter features Jude Owusu – who was playing the same character in an RSC production of Julius Caesar at the time. My review of Crouch’s performance in the same piece is here.
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