Tim Crouch’s I, Cinna (The Poet) is the fifth in his series of shows giving full life to some of Shakespeare’s minor characters.
In Julius Caesar, Cinna the Poet speaks barely 20 lines before he is murdered, mistaken for a namesake who helped assassinate the leader. From this seemingly slight premise, Crouch weaves a rich tapestry of meaning that encompasses revolution, republicanism, democracy, the power of the written word, freedom and personal responsibility in a digital age.
We meet this contemporaneous Cinna skulking in his room as the mob outside demands Caesar’s crowning. He struggles to write, his thoughts weighed down by his decision to live his life “in the brackets” of the unfolding story.
As a performer, Crouch shifts seamlessly from welcoming host – entreating the audience to write the story along with him in pads provided – to the vacillating, edgy poet, before delivering a theatrical call to action worthy of one of Shakespeare’s plays.
Naomi Wirthner’s dynamic direction keeps the show pulsing along while still leaving room for Crouch’s lyricism to linger on the ear. Despite being intended for younger audiences, the production doesn’t pull its punches. Lily Arnold’s set is backed by a large swathe of crumpled paper on to which Will Monks’ violent video imagery of riots flash up during startling moments accompanied by Owen Crouch’s soundscape, bursting from near-silence into pulsating, insistent beats. This, along with Crouch’s enthralling storytelling, combines to give the show a relentless sense of urgency.