THE SERVANT OF 2 MASTERS
Nottingham Playhouse
Opened 7 May, 1997

Martin Duncan and Ultz's latest project as a co-directorial/design double-act is a primary-coloured musical version of Carlo Goldoni's pioneering commedia dell'Arte work The Servant Of 2 Masters. As with an increasing number of Nottingham productions (although this is a co-production with Theatr Clwyd), the show warms up in the bar with selections of jovial Italian music, after which the musicians dressed as Italian waiters proceed to the theatre's orchestra pit dressed by Ultz as the kitchen of Brighella's hotel. A chorus of two young men in gold from head to foot, including their faces, then deliver the first of their periodical scene-setting numbers, looking and behaving rather like Gilbert & George at a fetish club.

The costumes in general are mildly, agreeably pervy: the cross-dressed Beatrice and her lover Florindo wear indentical Lycra thigh-boots, the polymorphously perverse Brighella has no pants on behind his chef's apron, and childish suitor Silvio is in a white jumpsuit. These get-ups, though, pale beside the tacked-together harlequin costume revealing slits of flesh on all parts of Miltos Yerolemou's Truffaldino, the clown who contrives to serve both Beatrice and Florindo as they remain, unknown to each other, in Venice.

Yerolemou has always been exceptionally good at mugging and capering, and indeed has already played Truffaldino once before in his brief career (at the Warehouse Theatre, Croydon for its 1995 Christmas production). Although he takes a while here to get into his stride, he has the knack of making his zaniness appear quite natural rather than a chore; his physical skills are put to use in such routines as serving two eight-course dinners simultaneously in opposite wings and setting a speed record for unpacking and repacking two enormous trunks, as well as deploying his persistent affable inanity on anyone who comes within range.

As Pantalone, the father of the apparently bigamously engaged Clarice, Bob Goody's lanky frame is topped off with a shock of white hair which makes him resemble the ghost of Jerry Seinfeld's sidekick Kramer; Goody gangles around the stage, bellowing ludicrously, as if he were a marionette whose puppeteer had Saint Vitus' dance. Melee Hutton makes a pantomime-boyish Beatrice, complemented by the equally caricatured languor of David Leonard's Florindo. Steven Beard comprehensively dominates his major scene as the (literally) scarlet-faced Doctor, working up to a deliciously silly crescendo in his low-camp Lancastrian accent and delivering his tirade complete with stage directions.

Duncan's slight, functional ditties punctuate the action, albeit with some inevitable loss of clarity during the more rapid patter numbers. The audience, giggling consistently but seldom guffawing during the first half, was much readier to let rip after the interval, having evidently come to the valid conclusion that there are plenty of worse ways to stage a commedia romp than this.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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