I, Malvolio

Thu 3rd – Fri 4th November 2011

reviews

Jonathan Grande

at 23:17 on 3rd Nov 2011

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It’s a long time since I’ve seen Twelfth Night. But what better refresher than this 60-minute gem, I, Malvolio, in which Tim Crouch re-imagines Shakespeare’s comedy through the eyes of the now-forlorn steward.

The North Wall Arts Centre is an unforgiving and austere space, but Tim Crouch commands it, and our attention, effortlessly and powerfully in this one-man show. It is a compelling, dynamic performance that utterly convinces, drawing the audience right in before spitting them straight out the door they arrived through.

And he’s funny, very funny. The script is witty and relevant, and delivered as well as any stand-up comic on the circuit. Crouch knows exactly how far he can push, giving Malvolio the revenge he has longed for as he taunts us with images of his thong-ed backside and singles out audience members for his aggressive tirades. The character he has created is pathetic yet malevolent, with countless wonderful touches – the fly on his urine stained underwear, his grimace as he attempts to smile.

But this is more than a whiz-bang tour of Illyria and the goings-on there – although the audience is treated to as lucid a summary of Shakespeare’s story as you’re likely to find anywhere. It is more than just another case of a minor character having their say – although the school-group sitting in front of me will surely study Malvolio’s plight in a new light. We do more than simply build a personal attachment to this wretched figure – although as the audience help to dress him, we do just that.

If shows that force the audience to play the lead are all the rage at the moment, then Crouch may be the most subtle casting director around. In I, Malvolio, not only do we feel sympathy for what has become of the loyal steward, we become complicit in his tragedy. We laugh at him in his soiled smalls. We think him mad as he mutters silently to himself. And we run to his aid as he struggles to tighten the noose around his neck. Are we really any better than Sir Toby Belch et al.?

It is telling that the house lights are never turned off. Our actions, thoughts and morals are to remain illuminated throughout Malvolio’s rant. We are forced to examine ourselves, and the role we play in the plight of others. We are made to feel uncomfortable and on show. Derren Brown did it last week. Ontroerend Goed did it in Edinburgh this summer. But even without their shock tactics, Crouch is as fresh and as thought-provoking as any of them.

Through Malvolio, Crouch hypnotises us with his meta-theatrical magic. You won’t want to leave. But even if you do, you won’t be able to.

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