Jude Owusu gives voice and passion to Cinna the Poet in the fifth in Tim Crouch’s series of plays exploring Shakespeare’s minor characters. He’s currently playing him in the RSC’s Julius Caesar, where Cinna gets fewer than 20 lines before being mistaken for a conspirator and killed, so there’s a real element of glee about this chance to explain himself.
He’s behind closed doors in a shabby room, clutching a chicken he’s managed to buy as the crowds take to the streets to celebrate Caesar’s victory. Footage of police and protestors plays silently in the background. He urgently wants to tell his youthful audience about the power of words to revolutionise or to destroy, and he throws out words for them to write down and later turn into poetry. “Write down what you’d kill for. Write down what you’d die for.”
He’s so engaging and compelling that they all do. Owusu is energetic, physical, pacing the room, boiling a kettle, dubbing himself a coward for hiding indoors. Crouched in front of a battered TV set, he watches and analyses the breaking news of Caesar’s assassination and Mark Antony’s speech. We know what his end is to be and it’s startlingly achieved so that we hear what he has to say even after his death.
The play will be streamed free exclusively into schools in an interactive webcast on July 2. It’s a very powerful piece indeed, not least the poet’s message that “words work but only if you work words”.