PuSh International Performing Arts Festival and The Cultch
I, Malvolio 
written and performed by Tim Crouch

Dates and Venue 30 January - 10 February 2013, 8pm | The Cultch, 1895 Venables Street (at Victoria)

Directors Carl James and a smith Original Design Graeme Gilmour Design Assistance Lucy Bradridge and Emma Wreyford  Administrative Producer Lisa Wolfe

Reviewer Elizabeth Paterson

Tim Crouch, author, actor, listmaker, clown, provocateur, stands alone on stage as the audience enters. He is a pathetic figure, dressed in a filthy set of long-johns, his socks around his ankles. But dangling from his chin is a set of red, bobbly turkey wattles and on his head an incongruous horned cap adorned with flies. We know we may laugh. In his hand is a paper, and because we are a knowledgeable audience we can guess that the figure is Malvolio and in his hands is The Letter, the cause of all his woe. We can still laugh; this, and Twelfth Night, are after all, plays.

"Find that funny do you? That the kind of thing that makes you laugh?" Tim Crouch challenges his audiences to think about being an audience.  He sets us up for laughter, then reviles us for laughing.   He makes the audience complicit in the action, first in a small ways as  when he encourages an audience member to kick him - he's a clown, it's OK, it's funny - then  frighteningly so when audience members willingly assist in his suicide  preparations.  

This unsettling dialogue with the audience happens at the same time that Crouch relates the story of Twelfth Night from Malvolio's point of view.  He argues strongly for the Steward and treats him more generously than Shakespeare did.  All the other characters behave irrationally, he suggests, and he gives excellent examples.  Order is necessary, he says.  Would we, the 'liberal' audience, sympathetic to Sir Toby's unruly behaviour,  encourage littering, slouching, untidyness, spitting in our own lives?  He, Malvolio, keeps order. And how cruel to lay before him the only prospect of joy he was likely to have, only to snatch it away and consign him to a madhouse.  "Laugh at that, would you?"  But Crouch also shows us the Puritan Malvolio who would ban playhouses, a disciplinarian Malvolio who tells the audience to sit up straight, who orders an audience member to help him dress.  Our sympathies slide toward Malvolio and away again.  

This was a very finely judged performance and an exceptionally clever and thoughtful piece of work.  The audience was pushed and insulted but not mocked.  The plot of Twelfth Night, sketches of the main characters, important and well-known quotations from the play and analyses of the principal themes and motifs are expounded - I, Malvolio was originally commissioned for performance in schools - and deserve an A+  and a bonus for making this also a play about bullying.  It has become a commonplace to knock down the "fourth wall" but to make the audience walk in the shoes of the characters and to have an intellectual and moral view of both the play and their own world at the same time is remarkable.  And funny.

© 2013 Elizabeth Paterson