08/12/2015 - 12/12/2015
If you’ve never been to the theatre before, then I, Peaseblossom, presented by the British Council in Auckland in a few weeks, is the perfect opportunity.
The play was written for young audiences but, as with most of acclaimed British writer/actor Tim Crouch’s pieces for young people, it has been hijacked by adults over the years. At its heart is the offer of a game – and the game works equally well with adults and young people. Tim alters the performance, according to who’s in the room with him.
“In one way, it’s an introduction to how theatre works – with a performer guiding and provoking and playing with you. It’s like a narrated dream; a running commentary on Shakespeare and the folly of love. It’s also told from the perspective of the outsider, the little person, the marginalised, the uncomprehending,” says Tim.
It’s the second in a series of plays he wrote for Brighton Festival. Each play takes a minor character from Shakespeare and places them centre stage. The first was Caliban from The Tempest. After Peaseblossom came Banquo, Malvolio and Cinna the poet (from Julius Caesar).
In A Midsummer Nights Dream, Peaseblossom has two credited lines – one of which is just the word ‘Ready’. As a character he felt ripe for his moment in the sun.
“I was excited to approach A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It’s an extraordinary play but it’s not without complication. The image of love and marriage it portrays is questionable – and Peaseblossom questions it!” says Tim.
“In my play, he has a series of increasingly frantic dreams in which his subconscious goes to work on all that he’s experienced in the world of Shakespeare’s play. I mix this with some classic Jungian dream-symbolism, some very direct story-telling and a philosophical treatise on the nature of theatre.”
The play’s unique element comes from Tim’s interaction with the audience – which he describes as “a mixture of improvised stand-up and tightly scripted text” or even “meta-theatre.”
The theme of both plays – A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and I Peaseblossom is love – so it’s little wonder that Tim refers to “love” as being generated through the theatrical experience.
“This sounds like a cutesy exaggeration, but the room gets full of the stuff. Love – and laughter. The show is quite robustly rude and surreal. It is not a sentimental indulgence, but Peaseblossom has this effect on everyone except the Grinchiest loser,” says Tim.
This could be because the play is structured in such a way that Peaseblossom is never in control. He opens out to the audience and the audience invariably responds. His heart is enormous and his innocence and misunderstanding are immense. He fails and falls and flounces; he is endlessly pitiable and endlessly ridiculous. The audience helps him, encourage him, terrify him, love him.
Tim says the fairy character is the one he has most enjoyed performing throughout his career, due to the ‘chaos and beauty” of playing someone so utterly open, yet so childishly naive.
This will be Tim’s first visit to NZ – prompted by five years of relentless invitations from British Council Country Director Ingrid Leary, who first saw the play in Singapore and insisted it come down under.
“We have a big world atlas on our kitchen wall – and there sits New Zealand, on the edge of the world – like Peaseblossom on the edge of Shakespeare,” says Tim.
“I trace my finger over the journey my plane will take and imagine the distance and the changes that will take place as I travel. I’m excited about meeting people who live so far away from me – and yet speak my language. All my work is as porous as I can possibly make it – and I’m looking forward to that porosity working both ways – the audience seeping into me and me seeping into them.”
Musgrove Studio – Maidment Theatre
December 8 – 12
at the, and is suitable for all ages.
Theatre , Solo ,
Whanau-friendly ‘skip through fields and flowers’
Review by Dione Joseph 10th Dec 2015
I, Peaseblossom is a perfectly timed end-of-year fairy-tale. And like all fairy-tales, its re-tellings will be as unique as its listeners. This night we are packed into the Musgrove Studio. British writer/actor Tim Crouch offers a virtuoso performance that combines comedy with suitable gravity and is pitched at audiences of all ages.
Crouch has developed a series of plays that explore the world of Shakespeare through the dewy lens of peripheral players (Caliban, Banquo, Malvolio and Cinna) and of course, Peaseblossom. From the Bard’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream the titular character is the second in this series that charms and cajoles audiences into engaging with a classic.
The stage is strewn with remnants of wedding revelry; there have, after all, been three weddings recently. Umbrellas hang low whilst our central performer, Crouch himself, is decked out in the most perfect pink gumboots, a large raincoat and a pair of mechanical wings. He is ably assisted by his son Owen who sits in a corner and orchestrates Karl James’ soundscape: an ethereal mix of raindrops and lollipops and sandman lullabies.
If you’re a huge fan of the play or are bringing along youngsters for their first introduction to Shakespeare there is much to enjoy and appreciate. Crouch is both masterful and playful, and the swirling states of the dream world weave seamlessly with reality. He is an extraordinarily versatile actor, intermittently all of his characters, and is well-assisted by a very capable ensemble from the audience. He also segues into pithy commentary, including self-confessions of how certain lines just don’t work outside the Northern hemisphere.
Crouch brings much humour and a gentleness to this fairy world where time crinkles into sporadic naps, playful encounters with technology, and alternating bouts of glee and anguish. The instant transportation into this world is a magical one in every sense of the word.
There are liberties taken with time and space, and delightful improvisation, and most are to excellent effect. The only exception is one where the changeling (a stolen child from India), symbolised by an old teddy in pink pants. The notion of the teddy itself is lovely and whimsical, and the stolen oriental child is consistent with the original penned – yet the India in the 1600s, ‘the farthest step’ from the world of the Elizabethans, was more of an imagined than real destination. Within a contemporary context it seems to be a rather an awkward reference that could use an update, especially considering the other modern touches.
If you cringe at audience participation sit at the back. Crouch targets mainly the first few rows and wanders up the aisles. If you have pint-sized punters put them up front because they will instantly warm to this fairy – one who looks like he was left behind a few millennia ago by Eoin Colfer’s contingent in Artemis Fowl.
The show is quick-paced and, except for a few repeating sequences (have patience; the laughter of the kids is totally worth it), is a skip through fields and flowers that will provide you with the most intimate knowledge of Midsummer. The shows are already selling out fast and if you need to get away from the wave of typical Christmas shows this is a whanau-friendly production that will entertain and satisfy.
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Review by James Wenley 10th Dec 2015
When I teach A Midsummer Night’s Dream to first year uni students I test their knowledge of the play in a quiz where, divided into four teams (Lovers, Nobles, Fairies, Mechanicals), they compete to win a block of Cadbury Dream chocolate (of course). When I ask them to name a fairy other than Puck, Oberon, and Titania, the students struggle. If you’re an actor auditioning for Midsummer, you probably wouldn’t have your eye on one of these fairies – the mechanicals are much more exciting (unless the Director has a wicked concept for them, like Michael Hurst’s senior citizen chorus at the beginning of the year). When you have drugged lovers, warring fairy royalty, and a Bottom with an ass for a head, the fairies Peaseblossom, Mustardseed, Cobweb and Mote don’t get much of a look in.
Peaseblossom has only four lines in the play – “Ready”, “Hail Mortal”, “Peaseblossom” and “Ready” again. That’s not a lot to go on for someone playing this character, let alone creating a solo show around them. Nevertheless, Tim Crouch makes a compelling case for Midsummer being the fever dream of one Peaseblossom the fairy.
Crouch’s work is invested in the ways live drama can uniquely tell a story with an audience. [More]
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