Brighton Festival 2010
Tim Crouch re-imagines Twelfth Night from the point of view of Shakespeare’s pent-up steward. I, Malvolio is a hilarious and often unsettling rant from a man ‘notoriously wronged.’
This was a highly amusing production which even managed to shock in places. I was treated to the late show, advertised for audiences 18+, which led me to wonder how much gets left out, or indeed how much gets left in the ordinary performances. Every element of the piece seems necessary to create the character of this tragic figure, trapped in the comedy that is one of Shakespeare’s best loved plays. Would the leopard print thong be replaced by larger, less revealing animal themed pants, would the swear words be toned down? I sincerely hope not!
As always Tim Crouch is a superb performer – he is wonderfully engaging and hugely talented, and even his repeated corpsing could be entirely forgiven as it was woven into the character – was possibly even part of the character. He manages to achieve a remarkable balance between giving much of himself onstage; you can tell that he is a nice man – would be good company at a party, but he manages to marry this with his entirely convincing portrayal of the poor, embittered steward Malvolio.
Not having read or seen Twelfth Night, I was concerned that I wouldn’t understand what was going on in this piece – however this fear was unfounded. I, Malvolio is very much an interpretation of Twelfth Night for which no prior knowledge of the play is required. It is part of a series of productions commissioned by Brighton Festival which look at Shakespeare plays from the perspective of one of the minor characters. It’s a fantastic idea, and Crouch’s use of modern language and entertaining delivery makes the piece hugely accessible to adult and younger audiences alike.
A key element of I, Malvolio (and the other plays in the series) is its presentation in schools – in fact this piece premiered at a local Brighton comprehensive. It would be easy to imagine the play going down very well there – far from being a patronising piece of Theatre in Education, I, Malvolio provides its audiences with a complex, visceral piece of theatre which not only gives a comprehensive portrait of Malvolio, but also manages to explain the plot of Twelfth Night in a clear and succinct manner. Also, as is pointed out by the programme notes, it is easy to see how teenagers might identify with the wronged Malvolio, humiliated and imprisoned by his superiors whilst feeling the intense pain of unrequited love.
This is a daring and unique performance which thoroughly entertained the mixed audience, and should certainly go some way towards filling the void of accessible productions of Shakespeare. I very much hope that Crouch returns to Brighton with the other productions in the series, I, Banquo, I, Peaseblossom and I, Caliban as I would very much like to see whether they live up to this marvellous performance.