>servant of two masters by the stage club
>reviewed by matthew lyon
10 oct 2001
A while ago now, a friend of mine was telling me about the latest production she was stage-managing, and she described it as commedia dell'arte. Not knowing what the heck that was supposed to mean, I quipped that the only dell'arte I knew about was café de latte di Starbucks. She didn't get it, which was sad, because we were chatting over coffee at the time. Nonetheless, I resolved to find out about what she meant.
As it turns
out, commedia dell'arte, the Italian renaissance tradition of semi-improvised
comedy, is a highly codified art form with an unbelievable number of rules
and traditions. Historically, it was performed by practitioners who were
literally born into the discipline: grandfather, son and grandson could
often be found in the same touring company, and troupe members spent their
whole lives perfecting their craft. As such, if you want to put on, for
example, Carlo Goldoni's commedia dell'arte masterpiece, SERVANT
OF TWO MASTERS, you've got to be rather careful with it. Which is not
to say that you must be utterly faithful to conventions of this outmoded
tradition - indeed, Goldoni's script was itself revolutionary when he
wrote it - but it does mean you have to think extremely thoroughly about
what you want to keep, what you want to chuck, and how you can retain
the correct tone, fluidity and physicality.
>>'The whole production looked like it was into only its fifth or sixth rehearsal, and the concept of timing was substituted by that of length'
More importantly, Lee hadn't risen to the challenge set by the lazzi, commedia dell'arte's set pieces, which are often physical in nature, and which should be real showstoppers of comic virtuosity. For example, a scene where two characters argued over how to set a table should have been a real humdinger, with plates flying back and forth at lethal speed; in the event, there wasn't even a table and the whole scene was mimed - very, very badly.
vitally, there was no acknowledgement that a certain style of acting is
required by the play and it is just not good enough to have actors say
their lines however they see fit. Commedia dell'arte is essentially
a masked tradition, and whereas it is entirely valid to dispense with
the masks, it is misguided to dispense with the type of performance that
this implies - exuberantly unsubtle, pantomimic, physical and based on
vivid stereotypes. One or two of the actors - notably Howard Young as
the servant - at least attempted this style, but most did not and would
have plainly been more at home, and in some cases rather good, in an Ayckbourn
The technical side didn't fare much better, either. The scene change music was perplexingly inappropriate, and was perhaps the result of turning on the radio when required; the lighting was unforgivably patchy and left some actors in the dark while endowing others with teeth like fluorescent strip lights; and the set succeeded in looking identical each time it had supposedly been changed: as the old saying goes, one candlestick does not a mansion make.
And to add insult to insult to injury, two of the supporting cast numbered among the very worst I have ever seen in a local production. I won't name any names, but cast members, don't worry - if you have enough self-awareness to suspect that I mean you, I almost certainly don't.
a great shame, because despite being one of the very few local theatre
groups to admit to being amateur, The Stage Club has generally been one
of the more professional in terms of output. Not this time. Truffaldino,
the hapless servant of the play's title, at least has an excuse for his
shoddy service. The Stage Club, as far as I am aware, does not.