A Servant to Two Masters

A Servant to Two Masters, by Carlo Goldoni, adapted by Lee Hall, was directed by Chris Morphy-Godber and was performed at the Edward Alleyn Theatre, Dulwich College, in February 2010.

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Review by Lorraine Greenslade

It's forty years since the Dulwich Players performed a play by Carlo Goldoni - the opening production of the newly formed group was 'The Venetian Twins', in 1969. Goldoni was an eighteenth-century Venetian whose comedy was based on that of the 'commedia del arte' - the improvised theatre style featuring traditional characters such as Arlecchino, Columbina and Pantalone, who later found their way into English pantomime. The plots often featured lovers whose relationships were threatened by jealous parents, but who were aided in their secret love affairs by crafty servants who could comically outwit their slower-thinking employers. Goldoni created new stage comedies from these age-old farces, writing set dialogue and so fixing the rough, ever-changing patter of the travelling groups.

'The Servant to Two Masters' is one of his better known farces based on misunderstandings, mistaken identity and deception by disguise. The servant of the title, Truffaldino, a cunning 'low-life' with his eye on money, food and the attractive maid Smeraldina, was played with gusto and swagger by Paul Sykes, and the crafty object of his attentions lustily portrayed by Sophie Taylor, a material girl of the time. Holly Spice as the cook, Brighella, served up a well-sauced performance and Steven Borrie, in a multi-servant role, provided one of the evenings highlights as a jolly gondolier, paddling across the stage.

As the two couples caught in this melee of misrule, Michael Fife as Silvio was convincing as a man hounded by a fate he didn't deserve and Georgina Morton was suitably tempestuous as his attractive inamarata. Jennie Francis as Beatrice, wore her doublet and hose with elan. Standing stiffly to attention in her disguise as a boy, she managed to convey her character's vulnerability well. Alex Gooch as Florindo looked very stylish, showing both frustration and resolve. Good performances by all these.

This was a well-presented, very competent production backed by a painstaking and skilful team with good attention to detail. The setting, based in Venice, could I feel have been more colourful but displayed considerable ingenuity in the change from exterior to interior location. I have only two reservations. Men and women have different body language and don't adapt well to playing the opposite sex when the change is not intentional. I felt it was a mistake to cast a good-looking actress in a man's role, when the group has some young male players who could have been approached. I also felt the updated language of the play to be anachronistic to the point of distraction - it detracted from the humour rather than reinforcing it.

'The Servant to Two Masters' was a most welcome first production by a new director, Chris Morphy-Godber. The hilarity and dexterity of the comic situations was well captured and we look forward to seeing more of his work in the future.