I, Malvolio

Tim Crouch
Unicorn Theatre, London

Tim Crouch as Malvolio Credit: Matthew Andrews
Tim Crouch as Malvolio Credit: Matthew Andrews
Tim Crouch as Malvolio Credit: Matthew Andrews
Tim Crouch as Malvolio Credit: Matthew Andrews

You remember Malvolio: the pompous steward in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night who is gulled into believing his mistress countess Olivia is in love with him? A faked letter encourages him turning up in the most inappropriate dress and behaving eccentricity. Those who taunt him say he is mad and he is locked up.

That is where the audience finds him in Tim Crouch’s biting piece of theatre. He is in his prison, wearing many-holed, pee-stained combinations, an ass-eared cap on his head and mumbling to himself “I am not mad. I am not mad”. He may look the picture of dejection but he has his wits and his pride He starts to tell his tale to the audience but rapidly makes feel guiltily like gawking visitors to Bedlam who went to laugh at lunatics.

That counterfeit letter, he has it in his hand, is crumpled up and cast away and seeing it balled up on the floor he launches into a diatribe about litterlouts and couch potatoes. This grumpiest of grumpy old men is soon scoriating everyone, together and individually.

This upright puritan joins the shortcomings of 1600 to those of 2012. In contradiction of his ridiculous appearance, he commands respect. Or at least authority, people do what he tells them. Few in the audience escape his censure and some find themselves following his instructions in a way that is both hilarious and humbling.

This PC puritan, ranting against the theatre, is both hilarious and touching as he arraigns us along with his persecutors, vowing “I’ll be revenged on the whole pack of you!”. He fills in the story of Twelfth Night, pointing out the wild or ludicrous behaviour of the characters who call him mad until we finally see him resume his sober costume and leave us still promising revenge.

And revenge he has in this beautifully-written show that often works in Shakespeare’s own phrases from Twelfth Night and it is superbly performed. Writer / actor Crouch gives a sustained characterisation that easily embraces improvisation to match the audience with the sharpness of a first-rate stand-up.

Karl James and a smith are credited as directors and Graeme Gilmour’s design keeps things simple with just a clothes rail, a table with washbowl and mirror and a hook to throw a rope over. The focus is always on the actor, or rather the character—even when he leaves the stage!

It is an hour of delight. As well as being entertained you can’t help but agree this Malvolio is justified and he’s right, though not perhaps entirely in his views on theatre.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton

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