Edinburgh Fringe 2011
Tim Crouch’s re-telling of Twelfth Night from the point of view of the maligned and puritanical Malvolio. Clever, fresh, and innovative, suitable for young and mature audience alike.
Tim Crouch’s I,Malvolio is a cleverly conceived and sensitively written piece that from the start holds the audience with an ease and aplomb that underpins the entire 50 minutes of the show, highlighting a beautifully timed and nuanced performance brimming with honesty, dexterity, and clarity.
Though the piece is gauged for younger audiences, I don’t feel this defined the piece or was exclusive in any way. The underlying themes of vulnerability, the desire to love and be loved, to want and be wanted, are palpable, touching, and juxtaposed with the widely accepted portrayal of Malvolio as merely a cuckold or puritanical snob.
In Shakespeare’s full length Twelfth Night we get Malvolio the repressed conservative, who believes all the theatres should be closed down, dens of iniquity and breeding grounds for loose morals that they are, blinded by self-importance and self-righteousness. In Crouch’s piece we see a more human, social awkward, emotionally aware side to the character that makes him almost endearing, reminding us that people are always more than they may first appear to be.
Crouch’s portrayal of Malvolio gives us character who operates according to mores or beliefs different to the accepted norms of his immediate society, who does not conform with popular trends, and is subsequently bullied and tortured for his individuality, his discomfort and loss of dignity used as entertainment for others. These are experiences all too familiar but not limited to teenage audiences; they are themes born of universal identification for anyone who has ever felt the pain of being misunderstood, rejected, or outcast on the fringes of the popular crowd.
The ironic but apt comparison Malvolio makes between his suspected ‘insanity’ and the convoluted premise of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night cleverly exposes and questions what is ‘sane’ and at the same time subsequently gives the audience a tidy summing-up of the original story and characters in Shakespeare’s play.
The audience was mixed in ages the day I saw the performance, from about 14- 60 years old, and the more dark, sometimes sadistic comedic moments were suitably uncomfortable and not lost on anyone. The impulse to laugh at another’s misfortune, appearance, or discomfort an old one and Crouch drives this home; from Charlie Chaplin to modern stand-up comedians we’ve been encouraged to titter at the injustices of life, the person who is not as fortunate or just isn’t like everybody else. It’s the old story of many a high school movie.
Shakespearean aficionados may find the stripped-down re-telling of the story from such a singular point of view sparse but I found it novel and innovative. Making Shakespeare approachable for all audiences, not just the young, is a task best left in capable and skilful hands and Crouch not only deftly holds us in his but offers a performance born of subtlety, freshness, and poignancy and is at once a triumph and a delight.