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By Carlo Goldoni
A new adaptation by Lee Hall
Directed by Ross Jolly
Love, passion and pandemonium
Goldoni’s much-loved comic classic is a masterpiece starring a wily servant whose cheeky, inventive trickery gets the best of his masters, in a merry mix-up of mayhem and mistaken identity.
Truffaldino, the scheming and perpetually hungry servant, concocts a zany scheme to double his wages (and his meals) by simultaneously serving two masters – the lovelorn Beatrice (disguised as a man) and her lost lover Florindo.
Hilarity abounds In this sharp, new, rapid-fire adaptation by award winning dramatist Lee Hall (The Pitmen Painters, Billy Elliot).
A delicious, madcap Italian comedy of lovers, disguises, tricks, traps, mishaps and meatballs!
“A sparkling, wonder filled new version by Lee Hall… An evening to cherish” – Daily Mail
“A hugely enjoyable night out” – Covent Garden Life
Truffaldino: Simon Leary
Beatrice: Kathleen Burns
Pantaloon/First Porter: Patrick Davies
Florindo: Richard Dey
Smeraldina: Keagan Carr Fransch
Clarice: Acushla-Tara Sutton
Dr Lombardi/First Waiter: Stephen Gledhill
Silvio/Second Waiter: Jack Buchanan
Brighella/Second Porter: Gavin Rutherford
Set Design John Hodgkins
Lighting Design Marcus McShane
Costume Design Sheila Horton
Music Michael Nicholas Williams
HIGHLY ENTERTAINING WITH JUST ENOUGH CHARACTER COMPLEXITY AND SOCIAL COMMENTARY BITE
Reviewed by John Smythe, 3 May 2015
“The world is full of tragedy,” a character says early on, in A Servant to Two Masters: Lee Hall’s adaptation of Carlo Goldoni’s 18th Century classic, Il Servitore di Due Padroni. And as always, tragedy offers a splendid foundation for comedy.
The tragic status of Federigo’s death, before the play begins, is questionable however since, in claiming he was defending his sister’s honour, he was trying to stop Beatrice marrying Florindo, the man she loved and who killed him in self-defence. In classical terms, however, Federigo’s fatal flaw was thinking he could and should control his sister’s affections, hence his demise was indeed tragic.
What a shock, then, to discover Federigo Rasponi of Turin is alive! Except it quickly becomes clear – to the audience, at least, and one or two other characters – that this is Beatrice masquerading as her brother in his clothes and in a quest to find her beloved Florindo. It is ‘Federigo’ and Florindo who both, unwittingly, become the masters of the one servant, Tuffaldino, who simply wants to double his income and food consumption. And thus the fun begins.
A prolific writer of more than 250 plays, Goldoni is credited (in Encyclopaedia Britannica) with renovating the long-established commedia dell’arte – which was suffering from indulgent actors showing off – “by replacing its masked stock figures with more realistic characters, its loosely structured and often repetitive action with tightly constructed plots, and its predictable farce with a new spirit of gaiety and spontaneity. For these innovations Goldoni is considered the founder of Italian realistic comedy.” (Note: realism means ‘of reality’ and is not to be confused with ‘kitchen sink’ naturalism; realism may well explore the reality of human existence using non-naturalistic conventions.)
Whereas Richard Bean’s hugely successful adaptation, One Man, Two Guvnors (which premiered at London’s National Theatre in 2011, and was produced in at the Court Theatre, Christchurch, last year) is relocated to 1960s Brighton, England, Lee Hall’s adaptation (which the Royal Shakespeare Company premiered as a Christmas pantomime at the turn of this century) retains the 18th century Venice setting.
Circa Theatre’s spirited production, directed by Ross Jolly, boasts an ideal cast splendidly clad in Sheila Horton’s exquisite costumes, on John Hodgkins’ clever set of sliding Venetian hangings, all delightfully lit by Marcus McShane.
A lack of depth between the hangings impedes traffic flow at times but somehow it adds to the fun when an apparently solid façade wobbles as an actor brushed past it. They also serve as shadow-play screens for the famous feast scene where the titular servant literally serves both masters.
Graced by lively classical Italian music (credited to Michael Nicholas Williams and Jolly), bookended with enchanting dances (choreographed by Brigid Costello), and energised with exciting swordplay, fights and pratfalls (arranged by Richard Dey), there is a definite panto feel about it all, although there are no songs.
Not since Dorothy McKegg bestrode the Opera House and St James stages as a Pantomime Boy half a century ago has Wellington seen such a swaggering male impersonator as Kathleen Burns (who played the equivalent role in the Court’s One Man, Two Guvnors). She nails it as the faux Federigo, a tough master and formidable foe, so that when she reveals her Beatrice self, it’s as magical a transformation as any panto could want.
Initially Richard Dey’s black-clad Florindo claims his reputation as a murderous villain but gradually a vulnerability surfaces and – expanding beyond Hall’s script, as I understand it – his sexual preferences become intriguingly ambiguous. Despite his upper-class twit persona and appalling treatment of the serving classes, the depth of his passions keep us engaged.
In ever-increasing jeopardy as he attempts to negotiate the demands of these two masters, Simon Leary’s Truffaldino is a wondrous concoction of survival drives and human emotions, working as he does through hunger, fear and self-preservation towards love for someone other than himself …
Brooking no nonsense as the serving maid Smeraldina, Keagan Carr Fransch revels in her wry commentary on the sexual politics rife in this patriarchal society while falling genuinely for Truffaldino: a finely wrought protrait.
The third woman determined to follow her heart against the wishes of would-be-controlling men is Clarice, played with a full quiver of feminine wiles and genuine feeling by Acushla-Tara Sutton. She is in love with Silvio – played with ardour then petulance by Jack Buchanan. Their simple subplot anchors the world in a degree of integrity while others pursue their hidden agendas. The bond between Clarice and Beatrice in the latter stages also adds valued cohesion.
Patrick Davies brings a loving malevolence to Pantaloon, Clarice’s merchant father, while Stephen Gledhill is appropriately dotty as Dr Lombardi, Silvio’s scholarly father. And Gavin Rutherford completes the named cast as Brighella, the innkeeper. Davies, Gledhill, Buchanan and Rutherford also deliver comic cameos as Porters and Waiters.
The whole company achieves an ideal balance between the all-important comic business, developed with glee (one assumes) throughout the rehearsal process, and holding fast to the plotline so that the story and its intrinsic themes engage our interest and empathy throughout. The result is a highly entertaining production with just enough character complexity and social commentary bite to keep us fully engaged. There are many delicious moments.
Circa now has renovated versions of two European classics running in both its theatres: a theatrically adventurous local adaptation of Moliere’s Don Juan (1665) in Circa Two; a more traditional English adaptation of Goldoni’s Il Servitore di Due Padroni (1783) in Circa One. Take your pick or see them both.