I, Malvolio | Arts Centre MelbourneA touted “specialist at bringing Shakespeare to contemporary audiences”,  Tim Crouch doesn’t shy away from shoving some of The Bard’s most put upon characters to the fore. With previous acclaimed works I, Caliban, I, Peaseblossom and I, Banquo already much lauded, he’s now unleashing I, Malvolio on Melbourne audiences for a very limited season.

Here we meet Malvolio after his suffered humiliation and incarceration in Twelfth Night. Upon entering the theatre he can be found hovering in the back corner of the stage; a mocked man, watching intently and getting the measure of the proceedings, quietly planning his revenge.

For, revenge is at the core of I, Malvolio and it comes subtly, and in many clever ways.

Across the show the audience are taken through the chain of events leading to Malvolio’s turn in an asylum in Twelfth Night. We get a bird’s eye view of his unrequited love for Olivia, his hatred of Toby Belch, and just how much he despises everything. EVERYTHING. Peppered in between this recount are darkly comic moments of audience participation, states of undress, and embittered insults.

Much as the comedy in Twelfth Night comes from the cruel pranks played on puritan Malvolio’s heart and person, here that cruelty is just as (if not more so) hilarious, and very much under the magnifying glass. The audience aren’t just passive spectators – they’re a player unto themself. Cajoling, laughing at misfortune, watching on gleefully during some damning moments, there are moments of pause – instigated by Crouch – where one can’t help but feel a definite guilt at the sadism.

Crouch, though, skipping between character and self, does ask for a lot of it though. Literally.

This mocking and insistent invitation to be a part of the show gives the audience a lot of licence, and it’s hard to imagine any audience of this particular production not being a rowdy bunch. Watching Crouch crowd wrangle is half the fun.

The text for I, Malvolio is a thing of complex beauty. It weaves and ducks, hisses and spits, and offers up some moments of incredibly touching stillness.

With minimal set and props, and probably a snitch less attention payed to the lighting of the show – this is what great theatre is. No bells and whistles, just unique and creative story-telling that smacks you upside the head, and asks questions of an audience that they’re not even sure they’re being asked?

I, Malvolio is a stellar piece of theatre, and it has a very short run here in Melbourne. Catch it if you can.

Arts Centre Melbourne presents
Written and Performed by Tim Crouch

Karl James and Andy Smith

Fairfax Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne
6 – 11 January 2015
from $30