I, Malvolio written and performed by Tim Crouch
Peacock Theatre, Dublin
9 March 2013
Review by Michael Mc Grath
As the 19 members of our group (16 young critics and the facilitators Alan, Karen, and Diane [they’re also critics – we’re all critics!]) piled through the door of the Abbey’s Peacock Theatre, our expectant gazes were met with an accusing glower. It came from a figure dressed in excrement-stained pajamas dotted with flies, and bright yellow stockings, standing in a sparsely decorated set.
Variations of these actions; our engagement and Malvolio’s judging looks were repeated over and over, and we were also soon met with his accusing words. The routine was denied the chance to stagnate by the increasing brutality of our relationship with one another, culminating in the arrival of a noose. An hour later we left our seats feeling a bit puzzled after Malvolio’s subtly-delivered “revenge,” a surprise that we are promised from the start, a punishment for our casual sins. Puzzled and intimidated but also intrigued and impressed. This I won’t spoil for you on the off chance that you are ever given the chance to see Tim Crouch’s brilliant I, Malvolio.
This is a one-man play told from the perspective of Shakespeare’s Malvolio, locked in his prison after the curtains have drawn on Twelfth Night. He is eager to have his say as he peers down on his squirming audience, and often orders us up to the stage to stand with him under the spotlight, literally and figuratively, in this clever performance.
“I am not mad,” Malvolio insists to his audience, whom he regards with contempt but who he believes need to respect his sanity. “Put that in your notebook” he spits at us after noticing our hasty scribbling. This is a taste of Crouch’s witty improvisation which dots I, Malvolio and provokes the most laughs in response to the play.
Soon after “mounting the horse of the script” — as the wonderfully strange half-Malvolio, half-Crouch puts it — we are told exactly how Malvolio intends this “well, whatever ‘this’ is” to go: he will first make us laugh and then attack us for laughing. This is the root of I, Malvolio, which brings the human cruelty inherent in comedy out in the open, where it both causes and silences our laughter with constantly changing tides of glee and guilt.
© Michael Mc Grath 2013