Reimagined as Tim Crouch in a stained white onesie, Shakespeare’s Malvolio mutters madly to himself on stage whilst peering at the incoming audience. His wonderfully bizzare facial expressions intensify as we are directly addressed, “I am not mad, I am not mad, I am not mad.” “I will be revenged on the whole pack of you,” he tells us. Flashbacks from his relationship with Olivia in Twelfth Night proceed to haunt the speech as he excellently flits between an improvising comedic Crouch and the poetical Shakespearian character. “This is Illyria by the way, where did you think it was,” he reminds us at times when his improvisation strays from the story. The audience is encouraged to respond; a woman shouts “Bristol!” as we become more and more aware of Crouch’s awareness of us. The questions aren’t “rhetorical,” Crouch informs us. Shakespeare’s minor character Malvolio is updated and adapted in a funny and interesting piece that pushes the boundaries of audience reaction.
The metatheatrical nature of the piece means that the audience is both attacked and appreciated. “Don’t cough,” Crouch told an unexpectant student before introducing the idea that he will be “Revenged on the whole pack” of us. We were, in Crouch’s words, “all as bad as each other.” The abuse continued: “Who let you leave home dressed like this?” A lot of the interaction is improvised. The show was orginially written for 11 year olds but Crouch’s rendition in the Wickham theatre felt tailored to the student audience. Crouch addressed an elephant in the room: “nobody really wants to be here,” he said as I sank into my seat.
Although lowbrow comedy littered the piece, with Crouch bending down to deliberately reveal a leopard print thong and a sign stuck to his back that read “Turkey-Cock,” some moments provoked a more reflective and darker atmosphere. Crouch introduces a noose onto the stage and encouragement for audience participation continues within a new context. Unwilling volunteers are instructed to aid his suicide as Crouch continues to shift between Malvolio and improvising actor. Shakespearian lines of lamentation are juxtaposed with “”whip away the chair” as he orders the volunteer. But the reluctance within the audience is met with Crouch reminding us that is it “just a play.” His cleverly tailored improv remains as he encourages us to snapchat him and post it on social media with the hashtag #hanging. It felt more like we were in a psychological study on human behaviour as we sat, fully lit by house-lights, wondering which way the piece would turn. Crouch had spent the first half of the piece bullying the audience and now he was encouraging retaliation.
This forceful breaking down of the fourth wall made me feel akward taking notes for my review and it was only a matter of time before I was addressed. “Put that in your notebook,” Crouch shouted up at me as he admired his own acting technique. This apparent game of playground tug of war finished with a cunning and victorious Crouch. In the final moments of the play, Crouch reminds us he ‘”will be revenged on the whole pack of you,” as we are told to wait in our seats whilst he gets something from the wings. He teases us and assures us that he will return. But of course, his greatest revenge is that we are left waiting, staring at an empty stage, unsuccessfully expecting him to come back on for an well-deserved applause.