I, Peaseblossom and I, Caliban
Company of Angels
Corn Exchange Newbury
Tim Crouch’s splendid play I, Peaseblossom I, Caliban beautifully and vibrantly performed by Jimmy Whiteaker is an absolute theatrical delight.
The concept is intriguing, taking minor characters from Shakespeare’s plays and letting them retell the plays from their points of view.
It was staged on the Corn Exchange’s auditorium floor, which was covered by a large, sand-coloured, circular carpet littered with detritus including a chess board, a cassette player and small figures in a boat to the sound of crashing waves and surrealist music.
The audience sits very close and is quickly drawn into the spell of this consummate storyteller as Whiteaker introduces himself to various members saying, “you’re beautiful” and to Chris, “I’m a monster.” He promptly uses elastic bands to cover his face to create his grotesque monster. This was certainly going to be a different and spirited interpretation of The Tempest.
What is so refreshing is Whiteaker’s wonderful rapport with the audience. It is if he is telling the story to us individually with an abundance of audience participation and much laughter.
The storm re-enactment scene is classic slapstick with everyone getting wet as the little wooden boat with figures in it rides the waves. There are moments of pathos as well; after all, Caliban was King of the island before he was usurped by the arrival of Prospero and Miranda.
Ariel is represented by a white, ethereal feather and all the characters' avatars end up on the chessboard: a clever, inventive device.
After the interval, the set is changed for I, Peasblossom, one of the fairies in A Midsummer’s Night Dream. Again Whiteaker enlists members of the audience to assist him.
Scene changes are announced by a lady sitting in the second row, holding up large cards for the audience to see. A teddy bear becomes the Indian boy and I was dragooned to play Oberon and anoint the love juice on an unsuspecting lady in front of me. We even had lines to say. By now the audience were completely enthralled and loving every minute of this madcap, hilarious version of the play.
You have to admire the sheer talent, energy and improvisational skill of Whiteaker’s inspired performance. Skilfully directed by John Retallack, Shakespeare will never be the same again in a wonderful evening’s entertainment.
Reviewer: Robin Strapp