Unicorn Theatre, London *****
Runs: 1hr 10 mins without interval
TICKETS: Box Office: 020 7645 0560
Child guidance: 11-14yrs
Review of perf seen Feb 19, 2020:
Cinna, the poet, happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. He is the unhappy victim of a moment of mob mentality, when a ruler has been displaced – assassinated – when the crowd are thirsting for revenge having had their heads and heart turned by the words of Marc Antony over Caesar’s body at his funeral.From this circumstantial moment, Tim Crouch has woven a thrilling homily for our times – part lesson, part morality play – about words, the power of words, their beauty and their purpose, their corruption and manipulation, that though created for young audiences – 11-14 year olds – is for people of all ages with freedom in their sights and in their hearts. It should be seen nationwide.
For this is political as well as theatrical and artistic dynamite.Crouch pulls no punches. He doesn’t pander to youth. I Cinna [the poet] – the brackets are deliberately included describing a man in a state of impotence, feeling voiceless and worthless in a world contaminated by tyranny – is crunchingly dangerous and outspoken, an exhortation to get involved and to discover the power of words to change society.
As such, Crouch, always a hypnotic performer, presents a harrowing figure of a man caught in a moment of history as an `observer’ of Caesar’s downfall framed through a contemporary prism.
Using all the digital paraphernalia of today laptop, mobiles etc, video clips accompany Crouch’s performance with pictures of demonstrators clashing with riot police flashing across an enlarged screen resembling a crumpled piece of paper.
Sometimes Crouch pauses in his commentary to instruct us, his audience, to write certain words in the notebooks we’ve been given at the outset. He – and we – are trying to find our `subject’, the idea that will fire Cinna and break his apparent writer’s block.
Originally created for the RSC in 2012, Crouch has revived this timely commentary on power, social upheaval and the fickleness of the public at what could hardly be a more apt or relevant moment.
It’s not the first time Crouch has taken a minor Shakespearean character and made them centre stage. Malvolio (from Twelfth Night) and Peaseblossom (A Midsummer Night’s Dream) also underwent the Crouch treatment. And, of course, there was Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern that originally reinvented walk-on parts as major characters with lives of their own.
Crouch takes us through moment by moment before and after Caesar’s murder, sometimes using extracts from the original text to set the scene. His theme is uncompromisingly political. It is about equality, about a [Roman] republic in crisis, about freedom (of expression).
But it is set within the most brilliant conceit of poetry and poetry making, tools to fire young imaginations with the magic of words. In Crouch’s concept, words find their equivalence in the republic as `slaves’, `citizens’, and `politicians’ using words that can kill. `They keep other words in fear. Use them carefully’, warns Crouch/Cinna.
It’s hard to over-estimate the impact something of this quality may have on those young minds as Cinna/Crouch digs deep into a chicken he has queued all morning to buy for signs from the entrails of what the future holds.
Cinna explains he has dreamt the future. And in his moment of extinction – he is murdered by the avenging mob in mistake for one of the collaborators to Caesar’s death, also called Cinna – he `finds’ his subject.In a traumatic finale, white-faced and oozing blood, Crouch/Cinna tells us of the upshot to Caesar’s murder: the death of the conspirators and the collapse of the Roman republic. `Tell my story, work words and put them into the world’, exhorts our guide and instructor.
One of the most remarkable pieces of theatre by any standards, if it inspires just one young person with the excitement of words and their impact on the individual and the collective mind in future, it will have served its purpose. What an invaluable lesson Crouch has given us in Art in the service of social cohesion and mental and moral health.
I, Cinna [the Poet]
By Tim Crouch
Written and performed by: Tim Crouch
Directed by: Naomi Wirthner
Designer: Lily Arnold
Video and Lighting Designer: Will Monks
Composer and Sound Designer: Owen Crouch
Stage Manager: Nina Scholar
A Unicorn Theatre production
First perf of this production of I, Cinna [the Poet] Feb 5, 2020 at Unicorn Theatre, London. Runs to Feb 29, 2020
Originally created and presented at the RSC’s Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, June 2012.