Experienced – I’ve played a lot of small parts – Shakespearean actor Tim Crouch retells A Midsummer Night’s Dream from the point of view of Peaseblossom, the fairy appointed to stand guard while Titania sleeps, who does absolutely nothing when Oberon turns up and squeezes the organic fairy version of rohypnol – there is no shying away from the darker aspects of the original play here – into his wife’s eyes. Peaseblossom may not have many lines in the Shakespeare original – ‘Ready!’ being perhaps the most memorable – but he is on set a lot, and sees it all. Crouch’s great idea is to wonder what a baffled, tired, and sweet (and not a little horrified) child Peaseblossom might make of all this love and sex and madness.
And Peaseblossom, despite being played by a balding middle-aged bloke, is rather adorable. He has something to tell us but he can’t quite remember it. He falls asleep with his bottom in the air and mumbles about not having got it yet. He is really keen to show us his new watch, and counts down to when he starts the show properly. He tells us what’s happening and gets people to join in. If things seem to go wrong, he tells us about it because it’s funny – at one point, he teases a critic in the audience, and no one is falling about with laughter more than the critic himself. He is quick-witted, but also lovely and makes everyone feel safe. He is at once Tim Crouch, Peaseblossom, and a little kid with a waggling leg, who metaphorically takes you by the hand and leads you through a magical world languorously enough so you keep up and enjoy each moment, and not so slowly that you get bored. The show is a delight.
The action is divided in to five dreams that connect to the original five acts, and incorporates all the things the fairies actually do – from stalking bees to scratching Bottom’s head – in all the conditions that are described in the play, like it being a miserable summer (a detail often forgotten in productions). Peaseblossom is costumed throughout in a short raincoat and brightly-coloured gum boots and there are umbrellas dangling from the ceiling. These coloured brollies are not the only things reminiscent of the famous Peter Brook production, the stage is pretty empty of set but alive in spirit, the Shakespearean verse is spoken with a clarity and anti-bombastic style that makes you hear it, and there are real moments of darkness to offset the lightness and magic.
A step away from the big narrative, the pleasure and interest, are the small things, the detail. It does make you rethink and re-appreciate the original A Midsummer Night’s Dream while being something special in its own right – a very engaging, intimate, theatrical work with elements of audience interaction, stand-up and puppetry that surprises throughout. Crouch may get the character parts, but then the best actors often do... and then they steal the show.
The Musgrove Studio until 12 December
[header: Greg Veit]