DTR - Reviews of A Servant of Two Masters

A Servant of Two Masters

Thu 6th – Sat 8th February 2014

reviews

James Hudson

at 00:05 on 7th Feb 2014

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Writing as one who was privileged enough to have seen James Corden’s performance in the fairly recent and critically acclaimed updated version of this play; “One man, Two Guvnors”, it is fair to say that the Hild-Bede theatre freshers’ production of the Italian playwright Carlo Goldoni’s “A Servant of Two Masters” had an intimidating act to follow. However the performance can be summed up as both energetic and highly amusing.

The set design can be described as reasonably minimalistic with the stage extending through the audience in a way that could be said to have partially emulated the design of the Globe Theatre. This, combined with the occasional interactions with the audience, lent a degree of intimacy with the cast although the severed audience at times lessened the ability of the actors to project their voices as efficiently.

The vivacious frivolity of the story granted the actors the perfect opportunity to showcase their comedic prowess. A prime example of this was the dynamic partnership of the delicately explosive Clarice (Pegah Moradi) and the prideful Silvio (Kieran Laurie) which managed to independently reproduce the wisecracking “Carry on” element which the Telegraph reviewer Charles Spencer described as a most endearing feature of the modern update. Indeed Laurie’s entertainingly aloof outrage called to mind the comedic genius of Kenneth Williams most strongly. Yet, throughout the shrieking and wailing matches, the play managed to skilfully toe the all-too-often obscure line between hilarity and soul-sucking slapstick. The brief flashes of flirtation between Pantalone (Archibald Murdoch) and Brighella (Danielle Oliver) served as a highlight of Act II and provoked widespread laughter but also showed an element of sophistication in the humour of the production. This was only slightly subverted by the occasional use of the fellow cast as a chorus to underline the thoughts/confusion of Truffaldino.

The introduction of Beatrice (Georgina Armfield) early in Act I boosted the initially slightly subdued volume of the actors and her formidable performance added a feeling of Shakespearean drama and gravitas to the proceedings. Similarly did Josh William’s expectorating Dr Lombardi evoke laughter in his verbal assault on the hapless Pantalone. Matthew Davey provided an entertaining and effective counter-balance to this in his portrayal of the infantile Truffaldino drifting through the admittedly unrealistic vagaries of employment.

Whilst the story did little to allow for interesting character development it enabled the cast to demonstrate a balanced and very entertaining performance that remained consistent throughout Act I and only had to increase in volume in Act II. The performance was described as being “funny” and “sassy” by fellow members of the audience and certainly had the sought-after “feel good factor”.

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Alex Thompson

at 09:25 on 7th Feb 2014

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Ha, ha, ha. Henry Fell’s ambitious direction of Goldoni’s 'A Servant of Two Masters' adds to Hild Bede Theatre Company’s growing reputation as a powerhouse in the Durham thespian scene. This fast paced comedy sees the perennially gluttonous Truffaldino’s (Matthew Davey) quest for more food lead him to serving star-crossed lovers Beatrice (Georgina Armfield) and Florindo (Edward Wheatley) at the same time, unbeknownst to them, and with hilarious consequences.

The audience’s intrigue is forcedly seized upon their first footstep into the theatre. The unorthodox use of a traverse stage design (or a set-up that more closely resembles a catwalk stage for any theatrical illiterates out there) places the audience at the centre of the action and gives them a real appreciation for every word that is spoken. Some neck-stretching is recommended prior to the play in order to prevent injury while attempting to keep up with the fast paced wandering of the characters from side to side, side to side, but when limbered up and acclimatised to the movement, the true skill of the cast becomes apparent.

The ensemble as a collective rose to the challenge created by such a demanding set wherein they were constantly visible.They maintained unwavering professionalism exemplified by Pegah Moradi’s constant immersion in her emotionally charged character Clarice, even when at the opposing end of the stage to where the action was taking place. Such was the energy of all actors that any one of them could have stepped in seamlessly to play the vibrant centrepiece which was Truffaldino.

However it is unlikely that they would have improved on the vitality of the outstanding Matthew Davey. Davey revels in playing the character of Truffaldino which he was seemingly born to play; his ability to spout gag after gag, losing neither the freshness of his character nor his puppy-dog grin that he wore so well was a joy to behold. Far from being a one-trick pony, his seamless transition from the jester to the romantic captured the hearts of each member of the audience as cries of ‘awwww’ reverberated around the theatre upon him proposing. His devotion, loyalty and playfulness makes a comparison to a young puppy very hard to shake off indeed.

Davey was ably supported by a cast whose chemistry was apparent. Josh Williams’ and Archie Murdoch’s portrayals of two proud, feisty geriatrics at times threatened to steal the limelight away from Truffaldino with their rib-tickling scoffs and bellows. On the other hand, the sincerity and believability of the budding romance between Beatrice (Armfield) and Florindo (Wheatley) prevented the play from slipping into mere pantomime and provided stylish contrast to the burlesque scenes around them, to which they were comically oblivious. Singling out the individual merits of each actor would be a drawn out process, but in truth this was an ensemble that was on the whole very well drilled in most things they did.

A unique aspect of the show saw the appearance of a live folk band that seemed to sporadically start playing their Mumford and Sons-esque banjos throughout the performance. Despite potentially being a neat and eccentric idea, it didn’t add much to the overall power of the performance and at times lacked conviction. Their near silent volume made it easy to overlook and forget about them, and moreover the vague echoes of the Countdown theme during a scene of suspense would test the hearing of even the most gifted of listeners. Both of these aspects could have done with being louder in order to amplify their role in the play, in this case humour, and a failure to do so suggests a lack of confidence in their success.

The audio, however, is not enough of a flaw to discredit what is truly an ambitious piece orchestrated by Fell and Harrison, and this was a play that oozed energy, verve and raw enthusiasm that did not falter from start to finish.

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