Tim Crouch is Malvolio in this telling of Twelfth Night from Malvolio’s perspective – a highly entertaining and sometimes discomforting look at what people find funny and the line between joking and hurting – a threshold that differs between people and even for a single person at different times.
The audience enter with Malvolio already murmuring away to himself. He is in a ridiculous get up that includes underwear and humiliating ‘accessories’, based on a ‘practical joke’ in Twelfth Night played upon him by those wishing to revenge themselves for this steward’s treatment of them. In Malvolio’s telling, it is clear that he feels fully justified for all he has done to keep his lady’s house in order and that any revenge to be had will be coming from him – and this will light on all those who find his predicament funny. The way Crouch uses physical and verbal humour, that means the entire audience.
Crouch plays us masterfully, with humour based on opposites and disgruntled grouchiness, rants relevant to today’s society that start off as seemingly reasonable and grow to extremes varying in their absurdity, and finally a fair bit of ordering about as he re-dons his ‘in charge’ persona along with a more respectable suit of puritan clothing. His tale includes pathos, a spot of slapstick and the story of Twelfth Night, where startling romances, gender disguises and mistaken identities entertain but somewhat beggar belief and may even be considered the actions of the mad.
For “I am not mad” is one of the refrains well used, where the repetition of certain phrases brings shifting meanings and where Shakespeare’s words are slipped in beautifully without any change in style of delivery, even when Crouch adlibs as he responds to his audience. The phrases from Twelfth Night are apt and well-considered, clear and often entertaining even if you don’t know Shakespeare’s play and for those who do know it they bring the enjoyment of familiarity and the occasional fresh perspective.
The staging uses basic lighting, the audience always part of the performance, and costume and makeup props are visible on a rail and table. The story of Twelfth Night is made clear and Malvolio’s views entertaining while making you question aspects of humour, humiliation and motivation. Crouch’s Malvolio can gain sympathy at one moment and then alienate in the next, prodding, poking and amusing the audience.
Malvolio’s revenge does not, perhaps, need to be explained by him and could be all the sharper for not being iterated, but this device is well set up and – along with others used throughout the play – affects the audience directly, twisting things around to question perspectives effectively. In all, I, Malvolio is an intriguing experience, with Crouch delivering a nuanced and provocative character who makes us laugh and think – and who hates theatre!
By Danielle Farrow
16 – 28 August (not 22), various times (duration 1hr) @ Traverse Theatre