Reviews take two: I, Malvolio and I, Peaseblossom

Tim Crouch looks at Twelfth Night from the inside

Wed, Mar 13, 2013, 17:00

I, Malvolio/ I, Peaseblossom
Peacock Theatre

This twin package from actor/writer Tim Crouch reimagines two Shakespeare comedies from below, offering adults a skewed perspective on familiar tales and children an accessible introduction to the classic plays.

I, Malvolio gives the much-maligned minor servant character from Twelfth Night his say about the mad goings-on in Illyria. Composed as a malevolent monologue, Crouch treads a thin line between comedy and tragedy, and the result is both wickedly entertaining and deeply unsettling. Malvolio is first revealed in the fullness of his abasement, clad in a filthy onesie split up the backside. “I am not mad,” he mutters, but it is hard to believe him, as he spits a tirade of abuse at us.

The audience, sitting uncomfortably close to his gaze under hot house-lights, are representative of everything that has gone wrong in Shakespeare’s imagined land, where lovers are in an endless permutation of pretence and disguise, and an uncouth drunkard such as Sir Toby Belch can be allowed to take charge of the court.

I, Peaseblossom is aimed at a younger audience (6+). It opens on the morning after the celebratory nuptials that close the play, and Peaseblossom, a welly-clad fairy with tiny pop-out wings, brings to life the confused couplings through his dreams (and with the help of some members of the audience). Crouch is a brilliant improviser, and his extempore banter with the audience provides the comic highlight of both shows. In I, Malvolio , these interactions are on the held-breath verge of offence, but as the show unfolds, his nastiness begins to make sense.

Despite its Elizabethan inspiration, Crouch uses a contemporary idiom, but there is poetry in his modern tellings, too. Audience members unfamiliar with the play’s dramatic origins also get a full summary in language more accessible to the target demographic, which is perhaps a little generous in both cases. The language and multi-layered narrative of I, Peaseblossom might stretch the average six-year-old, while my 12-year-old companion at I, Malvolio was a bit alarmed by Crouch's oft-revealed rear-cleavage and leopard-print thong.

However, Crouch offers more than just an introduction to a classic text in these first-person tales. I, Malvolio imparts a deeply uncomfortable moral message about kindness, and when he fulfils his fantasy of revenge in the play's final moments, we are taught a sophisticated lesson about the theatre, too. I, Peaseblossom , meanwhile, offers a gentler parable about storytelling. It is perhaps a little idealistic to say that Crouch will have children and teenagers seeking Shakespeare out for fun, but even as stand-alone pieces, these plays will certainly both challenge and amuse them.
Until March 23rd