Reviews Published 13 February 2020

Review: I, Cinna (The Poet) at Unicorn Theatre

An invitation to write: Eve Allin pens poems in response to Tim Crouch’s story of Cinna the Poet, Shakespeare’s most hard-done-by character.

Eve Allin

I, Cinna by Tim Crouch. Design: Lily Arnold. Video: Will Monks. Photo: Helen Murray

I, Cinna‘s a lesson in verse, in words, and in craft.
Children’s theatre made political, but never crass.
The poet Cinna is stranded, using language as his raft.
Video design jolts us from his world, and into the mob, the mass.

To be alive is to write, yet the poet stays silent.
Tim Crouch’s twitchy Cinna says he’s in brackets to real life.
He barely speaks in Shakespeare’s play, here Crouch makes him defiant.
And yet, he’s still on the side-lines, letting injustice run rife.

Lily Arnold’s design shrouds the poet’s desk in blank pages,
A simple writer’s scene that’s suddenly apathetic and cowardly,
In the face of the panic and the noise and the rage,
Cinna sits, trying to write but not really trying, until he loses his voice entirely.
.
.
Crouch gives his wide-eyed younger audiences a gift.
Without patronising them, he moulds betrayal into empowerment.
He asks us to write in an exercise book, to follow his words as they turn and shift.
In the small republic of the theatre, poetry creates worlds, overturns governments.

Over the cascading rhythms of Owen Crouch’s sound design, Tim asks us to write.
And so I write – in sonnets and haikus and couplets – remembering Cinna standing, blood stained, under a single spotlight.

Cinna asks the crowd

Who we would die for, kill for

Try to be truthful

I would die for my family

I would die for my freedom

 my honour

I would die for love

I would kill for my family

I would kill for the earth

  the ground beneath my feet

I would kill for poetry

love

equality

I would die for nothing

I would kill for anyone

I would die for my sister

I would kill for something better

I would die for my mother

I would kill for the trees outside my window

I would die for my father

I would kill for the soil under my toes

I would die for freedom

I would kill for the feeling of it

I would die for a cause

I would kill for the end of days

I would die for no reason at all

I would kill for truth

I would die for a legacy

I would kill for something to believe in

I would die for the story

I would kill for something to do

I would die for sake of it

I put pen to page

No words come out sounding right

I worry I’m lost too 

To the children in the audience, this is what I wrote to you, when he asked us to:

I hope you write something, anything.

Pay attention to the freely running pens in your young hands

You say it far better than I can, you know that to be silent is to die.

I couldn’t think of anything better in the moment. The spotlight had whipped round onto me, and everything Cinna had said before, that words are powerful, have meaning, have weight, have actual tangible somethingness, came crashing into me all at once and my hand froze above the paper. I know yours didn’t, because I saw it scrawling and scurrying across the page.

Let’s write ourselves safe

To write is to carve history

Words hold our power

Tim Crouch, posing as Cinna, tells us that words, sentences, syntax and grammar are like systems of government. Just like words and sentences and poems, governments can topple too. While laying out the story of Julius Caesar, Tim Crouch lays our story out too. He asks us whether artists have any place in a world that is burning, in a world that has turned upside down – is it enough to sit and comment on the riots, do we have to be in them to really make anything different? Most importantly, Tim asks his younger audiences these questions, and lets them hold the answers. By coaxing them through writing and listening and naming, he unfolds the many crumpled, complicated ways that language exists – as a weapon, as a death sentence, and as a tool. The rallying cry is an uncertain one, filled with questions. It is for the young boy who pointed and gasped at the real chicken carcass on stage. It is for the girl who turned to her friend – “that was actually so good”. It is for the friends still scribbling as the lights came up for the ending. It is for the kids that will go and read Julius Caesar not just because they have to, but because it’s important. Sitting in that theatre, past present and future literatures congealed into resistance, into a single story told across time, into a play that tells us the plot of Julius Caesar as a way to tell us that politics has everything to do with poetry, actually.

I, Cinna is on at Unicorn Theatre until 29th February. More info and tickets here

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Eve Allin is a contributor to Exeunt Magazine

Review: I, Cinna (The Poet) at Unicorn Theatre Show Info


Directed by Naomi Wirthner

Cast includes Tim Crouch

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