All the rage in England

Tim Crouch, I, Malvolio, PuSh Festival

Tim Crouch plays the title character in I, Malvolio at the PuSh Festival

I’ve seen two shows recently that have been all the rage in England. I haven’t been crazy about either one and, as a result, some of the rage in England has been directed at me. 

In I, Malvolio, Tim Crouch explores the themes that emerge from Shakespeare’s presentation of Malvolio, who is the Countess Olivia’s steward in Twelfth Night. A lot of this has to do with the cruelty of comedy. Fair enough, but everything that Crouch explores in I, Malvolio is already perfectly apparent in Twelfth Night, where it is examined much more affectingly.

I found much of the humour in I, Malvolio boring. Crouch expected to get laughs for baring his bum, for instance. But this is Vancouver: we’ve seen a lot of bums. And I found Crouch’s recitation of Twelfth Night‘s plot tedious.

This response provoked fury in some quarters. Tom Scut, who is, I believe, a British designer, objected wittily. And the most pointed annoyance came from Mark Brown, an Edinburgh critic, who called my review, “astonishingly philistine (not to say amateurish)”. High dudgeon.

I think it’s worth considering why Mr. Brown and I might have such different takes on the same show.

As he mentions in his comment, he saw the show with a high-school audience. Big difference. I, Malvolio was commissioned as a play for that sector. I’m thinkin’ bum jokes are more likely to work if you’re exposed to them, so to speak, during school time. And a synopsis of the play—which is also a condition of the commission—might be more helpful to students. But I, Malvolio was performed in Vancouver for general audiences at the PuSh Festival. I think the play’s structure would be wonky no matter who you saw it with, but it would probably be a lot more fun to see with rambunctious young ‘uns.

The other big-rep Brit show I’ve seen recently is sleep no more, an almost wordless retelling of Macbeth by a company called Punchdrunk.

This show is cool in that it’s staged in six floors of a warehouse. (I saw it in Manhattan.) Every floor is filled with installations and you follow the characters—who essentially dance their way through the plot—when you can find them.

At first, the setting is thrilling. But the choreography is tedious. And this telling of the story takes an unnecessary three hours, unlike performances of the written text, which can move like stink. (Macbeth is Shakespeare’s shortest play.)

Still, critics on both sides of the Atlantic have loved sleep no more. Ben Brantley called it “spectacular” in the New York Times.

I respect Brantley as a critic. But, in the end, all I can do is honestly express my opinion, whether or not that opinion bucks the trend.

About Colin Thomas

Colin Thomas is a Vancouver-based editor, an award-winning playwright, and an established theatre critic. Colin helps writers unlock the full potential of their novels, short stories, screenplays, and children's books.

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