By Danielle Farrow
It is surprising that there is no mention of Carlo Goldoni on the flyer / programme for A Servant of Two Masters, as youth theatre General Silliness Productions is most definitely presenting his play, albeit adapted by the company. This does not give credit where it is due (though the Fringe brochure blurb does), but enough of that – the company gain their own credit and pay their due homage through a great spirit of Commedia dell’ Arte, the Italian street theatre that made it into courts and major theatres over a few centuries, pretty much culminating with Goldoni in the 1700s.
Commedia, a parent of pantomime, is full of jokes (verbal and physical), stock characters and repeatable situations, the comedy lazzi that can be fitted into every play. It includes some wit and a great deal of slapstick (literally, as the good Doctor explains in this piece), with topical references and the occasional barbed comment on society, while throwing up caricatures of all with a spirit of generosity and good will. General Silliness captures this spirit, from initial introductory song, through apt hamming up of characters and plot points and some well timed and boldly executed clowning, to the satisfying resolution and final come-uppance. And they do it all with, yes, general silliness.
The plot is complex in execution but simple in basic notion: a servant, always hungry (though here, surprisingly, not from lack of available food) takes an opportunity to serve two masters – this doubling up unbeknownst to them – in order to gain two wages and two providers of food. Those masters, however, are involved in shenanigans of their own, in search of love and money, and one of them is, in fact, a mistress. There is cross-dressing, send-ups of lovers, academics and misers, and plenty of complicated relationships and disguises to unravel.
In this production, costume is suitably colourful, set a backdrop of Venice (put to comedic use at a few points), props a few cases with varied contents, and the masks used, while modern, are retained from the original, though here – in a reversal of tradition – the maidservant is masked while the servant of the title is not. This may have something to do with the gender of those involved, there being only the one man on stage – which situation, of course, this talented company make part of the fun.
While the physical numbers, especially the food fight, are sometimes confidently competent rather than highly skilled, and the vocal and physical depiction of a couple of the stock characters could use more work, this Servant of Two Masters is a highly enjoyable romp through the streets of Venice, with laughs galore and a great sense of shared fun for performers and audience alike: in short, it is fine entertainment.
Note: There is currently an exhibition of Commedia dell’ Arte, with masks, costume and videos from The Servant of Two Masters, at the Italian Cultural Institute until 25 August. This includes performances from 13 August. Further information.