Ever since Charles and Mary Lamb published their Tales from Shakespeare in 1807, there have been various attempts to make Shakespeare accessible to young people. Nowadays, we might find the Lamb’s tales approach rather cloying. The same could not be said of Tim Crouch’s I, Malvolio, currently at the Traverse prior to a UK tour.
As one-man shows go, this is a real tour-de-force. Crouch gets to the heart of Malvolio’s character, even managing to make him sympathetic. This is like the sort of extended improvisation that an actor playing Malvolio in Twelfth Night might prepare to help him get to the root of his character. It helps us too; and Crouch also gets the basics of the plot across and sticks in just enough of the famous lines from the play for an audience of teenagers to remember and use in their essays.
There’s no doubt that this is a terrific piece of writing and a remarkable performance – reminiscent in so many ways of John Cleese as Basil Fawlty. I am unsure if his final revenge is as successful as he might have hoped. And I do have a niggle in my mind about whether we ought to bring Shakespeare to the audience in this way. Should we not rather try to bring the audience to Shakespeare by doing his plays as well as possible?