When the lockdown was just about to kick in, I began to transfer my reviewing activity to productions being streamed online. The very first review which appeared out of this change of direction was for Tim Crouch’s solo piece I, Malvolio. Now some fifty reviews later I decided to return to where it had all begun by taking a look at a companion piece I, Banquo.
There are actually five Crouch monologues in the “I” series. Aside from the two already mentioned there is I, Peaseblossom, I, Cinna (The Poet) and I, Caliban; I have been fortunate to see all but the last. There seems to be a deliberate ploy of aiming each play at a slightly different age range of young people although as an adult I have enjoyed them all. I, Banquo seems to be aimed at an 11+ age range – haemophobics aside.
As will be readily guessed this play is all about Macbeth’s best buddy who gets the chop halfway through the play but whose presence is still felt throughout. Banquo is a troubled soul, unable to fully comprehend the enormity of his once best friend’s actions. He realises that but for the initial twist of fate it could just as easily have been himself at the centre of the narrative; the phrase “And…it could have been me” becomes a refrain. Unlike others of the series I, Banquo takes a more or less chronological approach to the narrative examining events before the action of Shakespeare’s play and then moving into the text itself. The fact that Banquo dies (which is actually dealt with pretty rapidly) is no barrier; he remains as a ghostly commentator taking us right through to the denouement of the original. This systematic approach makes this play ideal revision material for any young people studying the play in isolation. The piece is related in mostly straightforward language but with a huge dose of tension thrown in.
A plaid clad Crouch is joined on stage by Owen, his real life son, as Fleance, the son of Banquo. Crouch junior’s duties are limited to delivering a couple of Shakespeare’s lines and playing the guitar in between the monologue’s various sections. The set is strikingly simple – just a gigantic piece of unrolled parchment over which Crouch tramples pausing periodically to plunge his arms into a barrel containing much blood. As the play progresses this blood comes to cover Crouch and gets splattered onto and thrown at the parchment by him producing a Pollock – like visually arresting central symbol. The barrel also contains another surprise… but I won’t spoil that by mentioning what. Suffice to say I could hear one or two gasps from the audience; Crouch treats them as a collective confidante throughout, ultimately making them complicit with the death and destruction on which Macbeth is built.
I suspect that like some other performance videos I have watched recently, this was never intended for public consumption. The fixed camera long shot deployed does not allow for any nuancing and it is a pity that some close ups are not included because Crouch is a mesmeric actor. I saw him performing I Cinna (The Poet) live earlier this year and can directly testify to his ability to hold an audience’s attention and provide them with a really unique way of looking at some Shakespeare characters. Being a bit of a completist I do hope that the one piece I have yet to see I, Caliban, exists in recorded form somewhere. As it is the earliest of the monologues, I guess this may be unlikely and that there probably is not a “wrack left behind”.
I Banquo is available on Vimeo. Click here I, Malvolio and I, Peaseblossom are available at the same location. I, Cinna (The Poet) is available here (this is not performed by Crouch himself)
Please click on titles for my earlier reviews from the series: I, Cinna (The Poet), I Malvolio and I, Peaseblossom
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