written and performed by Tim Crouch
Nowadays, insertion of the first person pronoun ‘I’ before a name has great resonance with today’s young people and their ubiquitous i-gadgets, further assisting celebrated UK theatre artist Tim Crouch’s mission to engage teenagers with the sometimes troublesome subject of Shakespeare. He takes some of the more ‘fringe’ characters from the Bard’s pantheon and brings them to the fore: I Caliban, I, Peaseblossom, I Banquo and, at Curve’s Studio as part of this year’s Spark Arts for Children Festival, I, Malvolio.
Malvolio is the tragi-comic steward to ‘my lady, Olivia’ from Twelfth Night. From the start we laugh at him, thanks to one of theatre’s most outrageous (and realistically stained) costumes and it is hard to believe him as he regularly returns to his repeated refrain of ‘I’m not mad’. He scolds us as ‘idle, shallow beings’ and frequently addresses us as if we are Malvolio’s arch-nemesis, Sir Toby Belch.
Twelfth Night has one of Shakespeare’s more preposterous plots, as determined by Malvolio himself in one of his many diversions over the fourth wall. Suffice to say though, poor Malvolio has been tricked and despite his puritanical posturing he is a man brought low when at his most vulnerable; there is an air of Victor Meldrew about him. Hard not to feel for him, with his whimpers and strong sense of self-righteousness and Crouch’s performance is a masterclass in comic timing and pathos, all whilst wearing some rather eye-catching (and eye-watering) underwear.
I, Malvolio is a beautifully executed hour of comedy and discomfort – partly at the recognition of human behaviour at its most unappealing as we all laugh at his misfortune and humiliation – and partly the fear of audience participation. With a minimal set the focus is purely on character and his words with Crouch revealing the complexities of this proud but humbled man.
And true to Shakespeare, 16th century Malvolio ‘will be reveng’d on the whole pack of you’ – I won’t spoil it but for this 21st century audience, Malvolio, you owned us.
I, Malvolio was at Curve’s Studio 23 and 24 May
Part of Spark Arts for Children festival 19 May to 1 June 2014
Image by Matthew Andrews