Tim Crouch’s series of performances as overlooked characters in Shakespeare is a fascinating body of work. He has been developing these one-man shows (with assistance) for more than 15 years, most recently with I, Cinna. I, Peaseblossom dates from 2004, part of the ‘Fairy, Monster, Ghost’ trilogy with I, Banquo and I, Caliban. The first two are, thanks to lockdown, available to watch free on Vimeo. I hope the latter emerges too but, in the meantime, I, Peaseblossom and I, Banquo should be very high on your remote theatre list. Filmed with a static camera from the back of a small auditorium, they feel very different to filmed-for-broadcast theatre, but the atmosphere and audience involvement is vivid, even when someone with a cough is sitting near the camera.
I, Peaseblossom features the fairy of that name from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, part of Titania’s retinue, who speaks a single word in the play: “Ready!” The show begins at 4.30am after the climactic wedding that ends Shakespeare’s play. Peaseblossom has been up all night blessing everything at his mistress’ command, and falls asleep among the wedding debris. He dreams the events of the play in a series of unsettling, Jungian visions. His dreams include of his teeth falling out, finding himself suddenly naked, and being thrust on stage in ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’ not knowing the lines. His anxiety underlines the disturbing nature of events in A Midsummer Night’s Dream – drugging, transformations, confusion, mistreatment, and the use of others for entertainment – all in the name of love. Peaseblossom, in his dream, is rooted to the spot and forced to watch as the play takes its alarming course. Crouch engages expertly with children in the audience, enrolling them to play other parts, and creating an atmosphere of shared disbelief. However, the play’s friendly surface hides multiple questions about sexual power, privilege and colonialism, which are in no way diminished by their playful staging.
I, Banquo is a very different beast, more of a traditional monologue, less of an experiment in audience dialogue, and most definitely not for children. It is gripping and powerful, and highlights Crouch’s remarkable range as a writer and performer. Banquo is seen against a sheet of white paper, which he splatters with blood from a bucket as the grim events of Macbeth unfold. Discordant electric guitar played by Crouch’s own son as Banquo’s son Fleance, punctuates the story. The show is driven by the same disastrous, unstoppable momentum as Macbeth, and Crouch underlines the almost arbitrary nature of the play’s evil with repeated cries of “It could have been me, but it was you.” The betrayal of a man by his best friend is made real, and the breathless disbelief and growing horror racing through Banquo’s mind as he understands, too late, what is going on drives a unforgettable piece of theatre.