In the end, a Shakespeare-related `online theatre` experience that is worth recounting, comes this way. And an artist of substance was needed to shift this new phenomenon into a measure of careful thinking as well as performance. With the Zoom version of his I, Cinna (The Poet) `under the direction` of Naomi Wirthner for Unicorn Theatre, Tim Crouch comes to explore this new `district` with intensity, grace, and — fatefully, poetic sensitivity.
Finally, not a crowded screen where `unthought` actions and untameable words squeeze the wish of connecting in times of isolation into an antsy sequence of noises landing into boredom. Crouch’s choice is simple because it is thought: the encounter happens on `stage` — webinar mode, precisely as in a `normal` theatre. The broad vision, not just an `undirected` focus on his face, betray a study on how to play the role of actor into long and short plans. Also, it does not forget `scenic` props: a desk, a laptop — perpetual connection with the outside world, a sealed room, a coat, a kettle, a smartphone. Especially, though, a pen and paper.
Right, because at the heart of this `play` are the words. It is possible to access the `theatre room` about half an hour before, and you will see him struggling with an empty log where words just cannot stick. Help is required from an audience. And the audience comes. First of all he reads all the names of the `attendees`, — mine included, and explains how the connection with the virtual `fourth wall` will be established, way up until the moment that — at the end only, and this is not a minor detail, those present will be turned into `participants`. This being the moment he likes the most.
This `script` — fifth in the I, Shakespeare series, including I, Malvolio, I, Banquo, I, Caliban, I, Peaseblossom, formerly composed for Jude Owusu in a 2012 RSC production, takes out from Julius Caesar a minor character with an inauspicious fate. Already revived by Crouch himself as an actor last February, Justin Audibert, artistic director of the London theatre still producing it, ended up convincing him to set up this new version.
Conceived for a solo performer, this brilliant text offers Crouch the chance to stand out for narrative mastery and dialogic capability, especially with the youngest in the `virtual audience`. It is to them, as a matter of fact, that he asks primarily to raise the `virtual hand` and interact — in a few, essential moments, via Q&A. This one is a reflection on life, its specific `gravity`, in-between two deaths: the one of the `dictator`, — literally he who dictates the words, bearer of a crown of king in the bosom of a republic which cannot take off (neither then, nor now, nor anywhere) and the one of the wrong Cinna, not the conspirator, but the poet. Killed not once but twice: in the flesh and in his property of thinker of the beautiful and the just. His words suffocated by a crowd calling him `out` because he cannot and does not want to `live in brackets`. An almost unbelievable echo of the current events which arguably could be of help to the intensity of the final product.
All, in this `theatrical interaction` Crouch sets up, aims to activating — thus keeping Cinna (both the real one, and the symbolic one) alive, the poetic capability inhabiting each and every one of us. Some sort of `poetising`, so to speak, generating a `philosophising` in the simplest of manners. He builds the latter up from the smallest of words — those which are `slaves` to other words, moves ahead to the words which exist already, — `substance words` or things, carries on to the words which `give meanings` to other words, — adjectives, up to the words which did not exist until we gave them a name — abstract concepts.
It is into this `republic` of words that the `conceptualisation` actually begins. `What would you die for? What would you kill for?`. These are the questions entrusted to the audience, giving them time to reflect and share. Especially the youngest. The cast Crouch’s `theatrising` is made from stands precisely into the closeness to the people attending, and this paradoxical contingency makes that happen here in an even more pertinent manner despite the real distance.
Some documentary `interludes`, — images of social turmoils forwarning the fall of the `king`, formerly conceived for the backdrop in a real theatre, become here part of the `narrative performance`, contributing to giving breath to this `live video`. Undoubtedly are to be blessed the gods of internet for having been so benevolent in the course of this particular encore, and having prevented from any `bad connection` to occur. The news about Caesar’s death comes on TV after the reflections on life and its specific `gravity`, and it cannot but revolutionise Cinna’s unnatural claustrophobic present, his own poet’s vocational property calling him to go out into the world in order to `poetise`, as there cannot be poetry without exiting.
Have you ever felt like that? Like brackets.
(I’m in brackets to real life.)
Do you understand? Brackets.
This is how he embraces his destiny of death by cause of homonymy. It will be the audience’s duty to honour his act, — by means of the `reflected words` and the just manifested action, with an intimate yet communal poem to be composed along a five minutes silence bringing all those present close, even though far away and invisible to one another. Valediction and gratitude come from Cinna’s `ghost`. Thereafter, `curtain`. The most touching moment for us is the one Crouch himself likes the most. The brief one when lights are back on the `room`, out of the webinar mode, to shift gracefully, just for a few, gracious minutes, in the meeting mode.
Smiling, waving to each other, recognising each other, all seems to be a mutual gift that each participant delivers — indeed, as a `statement of presence`, before getting back, all of us, into our own republic.