Shakespeare, through a different lens

Play provides an alternate perspective of one of Shakespeare’s most notorious antagonists

Actor Justin Otto stars as the title character in I, Malvolio.

Supplied image

With the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre’s Masters Playwright Festival coming to an end in 2020, its focus is on none other than famous playwright William Shakespeare.

The festival runs from Jan. 20 to Feb. 9 and features productions of Shakespeare’s popular works, such as Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet and King Lear. There are also spinoff plays that offer a new take on the originals, including I, Malvolio.

This play, by British theatre artist Tim Crouch, is situated at the end of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and explores the misfortunes of the main antagonist, Malvolio. Its associate producer, Reba Terlson, sheds light on the show’s focus and its importance.

“It interrogates the play’s plot from this character who is at the butt of everyone’s joke and is abused a lot throughout the play,” she says.

“It shows how misunderstood his character is, and it asks the audience how much we enjoy other people’s misfortunes and how much of us are willing to watch it unfold in front of us and perhaps not do anything about it.”

Though a general focus tends to be placed on main characters and original plots in theatre, Terlson says adding different points of view helps audiences better understand themselves and the characters.

“What I would love is for more theatre to poke at exploring what other characters are about,” she says.

I, Malvolio does this by turning this character on its head and examining what happens to Malvolio, letting us examine how that affects the audience and the characters in the play. Does the play make us question anything, or should we just sit back and watch it happen?”

Justin Otto, the actor who plays Malvolio, echoes the play’s broadening perspective as it highlights common social issues.

Twelfth Night is seen as a comedy and a good time for the most part, but I think what is mostly unseen in the play is this man who has strongly held beliefs but also is bullied and treated as if he is other,” he says.

“So there will be a lot of madness and insight into what it is like to be other portrayed, which I think we all have experienced in our own ways.”

Otto says that plays like this can help remove a common stigma surrounding theatre.

“Sometimes plays can feel like you are watching an essay or being lectured on something, (whereas) this reflects whoever is in the room. People are going to react based on their own experiences, so the hope is that each different audience group learns a different thing.”

Though this is a one-person act, Otto says that the nature of his performance and the subject matter should create a communal experience.

“We are all affected by bullying and other negative frameworks in society. So hopefully I bring an opportunity for people to let their guard down.”

I, Malvolio will run at Crescent Fort Rouge United Church, located on 525 Wardlaw Ave., from Jan. 24 to Feb. 7. Tickets can be reserved by emailing

Published in Volume 74, Number 14 of The Uniter (January 16, 2020)

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