I, Malvolio has its playful moments

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      By Tim Crouch. Direction assistance by Karl James and a smith. A Tim Crouch Theatre production, presented by the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival and the Cultch. At the Cultch’s Historic Theatre on Thursday, January 31. Continues until February 10

      I, Malvolio is okay—smart and funny sometimes but not nearly as smart and funny as it seems to think it is.

      In this solo show, English playwright and actor Tim Crouch explores the character Malvolio from William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. In that play, a band of practical jokers forge a letter from Lady Olivia to Malvolio, her puritanical steward, in which she declares her love for him and instructs him to smile and wear yellow, cross-gartered stockings. The thrilled, smitten servant does as he’s told and behaves like a fool. As a result, he is declared mad and incarcerated in a dark prison. When he’s released, his curse—“I’ll be revenged on the whole pack of you”—leavens the hilarity of the play’s multiple nuptials.

      Malvolio is a fantastic creation; well played, he will make you laugh and he’ll break your heart. Starting the show in filthy, pee-stained long johns and a headpiece that features horns and turkey wattles, Crouch gets the heartbreak right. His Malvolio can’t refer to his love for Olivia without collapsing into himself, head down, and whispering; you can almost feel the pain in his chest.

      But did I, Malvolio illuminate the character for me? No. Crouch has created a kind of theatrical essay in which he deliberately explores the cruelty of comedy—“You find that funny, do you?”—and the madness of love. But these themes are explored much more affectingly in Twelfth Night, which doesn’t lecture.

      I, Malvolio made me uncomfortable at first because the character is so clearly disturbed off the top. A bit of unease can be a good thing in the theatre. But after a comic scene about suicide, the tension goes out of the script as Crouch recounts the plot turns of Twelfth Night in detail.

      Crouch is funny, especially when he’s improvising. And his playfulness creates some solid laughs. I particularly enjoyed the passage in which he gets carried away with comic business while putting on a stocking and declares, “I’m not even doing naturalism anymore.”

      Much of the humour in I, Malvolio is odd, though—partly, perhaps, because it was originally created for high-school audiences. There’s an ongoing gag, for instance, in which the character exposes his near-naked butt to the audience. The crowd I saw the show with didn’t find this wildly funny, which clearly disrupted Crouch’s expectations and undermined the intended rhythm of the piece. “It’s like walking through mud!” Crouch complained at one point, teasing us about our lack of response. But who cares about a naked bum anymore?

      A skilled technician, Crouch uses a wide vocal range and he varies his rhythms, often speaking very quickly. For much of this, however, I simply felt that I was watching an actor showing off.

      I’d much rather watch Malvolio in his natural habitat, Twelfth Night.


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      Robert Shaw

      Feb 2, 2013 at 9:41am

      A pretty humourless review of a performance in front of what sounds like a pretty humourless audience.

      Tom Scutt

      Feb 2, 2013 at 9:59am

      I wholeheartedly agree with Mr Thomas. My wife, Margaret, and I travelled from Bellingham to see this show and we feel it was a wasted journey. A case of the emperor's new clothes, we felt - watching an actor waste what talent he had on very weak material. Desperately trying to generate a response from an audience who had the sense to see through his feeble antics. Margaret and I are both old enough to remember the hanging of Arthur Lucas and Ronald Turpin in Toronto's Don jail back in 1962, and, seeing the publicity photographs for this show, we had been looking forward to seeing a restitution of this time-honoured act of auto da fe. Imagine our disappointment when the actor failed to go through with the publicised self-annihilation. My wife turned to me and suggested we ask for our money back. We were there in good faith - I had brought a picnic supper for the event, and Margaret had her macramé. When the actor failed to follow through, we had to endure another thirty minutes of his 'showing off'. I had half a mind to go onto the stage and finish the job.

      Joeseph Joesperson

      Feb 2, 2013 at 4:47pm

      Overrated show. Overrated festival.

      Frank Colchester

      Feb 2, 2013 at 5:07pm

      Frankly I am a bit shocked at the review. The show has great humor and also placed the audience in an uneasy space at times. Nonetheless, that is exactly where Malvolio sits inside Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. Yes there will be people offended at this intelligent creation, but does that not make it exactly what theater should strive to be? Tom, your desire to finish the 'job' so to speak make me think Mr. Crouch did his job extremely well. I think this show, as the reviewer stated, is a pearl for High school students who shouldn't be patronized with weak non thought provocking theater. They are getting something special.

      Mark Brown

      Feb 2, 2013 at 5:48pm

      What an outstandingly philistine (not to say amateurish) review. As a professional theatre critic, I had the pleasure of reviewing this piece during its Edinburgh Festival premiere. In a festival overflowing with solo shows, I Malvolio shone, on account of both its bleakly hilarious script and Crouch's equally brilliant and inventive performance. It lingers happily and vividly in my memory, which is more than can be said of most theatre productions I see (and more than I will, I'm sure, say of Mr Thomas's review in future).

      Colette Nichol

      Feb 5, 2013 at 11:54pm

      I couldn't agree with Mark Brown more. This is a piece of theatre which whether it wants to or not rises to the level of art, where it of course creates controversy - as most great art inevitably does. I'm sure of the audience members at tonights show wanted to walk out while others were hoping that the show would never end. Frankly that some people are not able to fully appreciate the uncommon brilliance of this show is more than anything their absolute loss. This minimalist piece of black comedy may turn some audience members off with its out-front clown approach and audience interaction, but the intrepid theatre goer looking to see something unlike anything past and future will be rewarded. Without exaggeration, this is one of the most stunning pieces of solo theatre I have ever seen.

      Phil Kingston

      Feb 8, 2013 at 3:13am

      Mr 'Scutt' - your review is a truly wondrous piece of satire, thank you. I am half inclined to believe it was written by someone close to the production.

      'I had brought a picnic supper for the event' - the spirit of Joe Orton hasn't died.


      Feb 10, 2013 at 4:24pm

      Still better than Ride the Cyclone.