Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

Nothing lost in Translation

In rehearsal: Left to right: Mark Nattrass (Florindo), Trudi Shaw (waitress), Faye Hatch (Beatrice), Kerry Frater (Brighella), Bhupinder Kaur Dhamu (Clarice), James Cutajar (Silvio), Martin Walker (Pantalone), Sandra Haynes (Lombardi), Keith Hayes (Truffaldino), Marion Pritchett (Smeraldina)

The Servant of Two Masters

Highbury Theatre Centre


The Highbury players end their current main season with a whirlwind, exuberant performance of The Servant of Two masters.  

The play, written in 1747 by Venetian playwright Carlo Goldino, has been transcribed many times into a variety of forms but Highbury are possibly unique as a company as this version was translated by their founder John English way back in 1948.

The play is written in the style of Commedia dell'arte, originally a form of masked improvisation. If you are not familiar with that then as a reference elements of it were adapted by the writers of  TV series like`  Up Pompeii ‘or ` Allo Allo. It is where there seems to be a casual interplay and asides from players who reflect on the plot seemingly outside of the script.

Indeed there were quite few similarities to ` Allo Allo' in this excellent performance as the Italian accents occasionally wandered across the border into France. The choice of modern dress also helped that impression with leather coats, fishnet stockings and Trilby hats. (Although not all on the same actor I should stress)

It's worth beginning with the excellent direction by Ian Appleby and Nigel Higgs as organising the flow of chaos and plot detail into a manageable stream is key to its success.   A simple open stage with a series of colonnaded entrances provided the wide open space to contain the action.

It's actually a pretty complex plot to paraphrase but the central theme features Truffaldino who, to make some extra money and the prospect of a double lunch, takes on the role of servant to two different masters.

This pivotal role is managed by Keith Hayes whose feisty and confident performance seems to lift the entire cast into the exaggerated delivery and scenarios that this piece requires.

Kerry Frater was notable as the Inn keeper Bighella. The Welsh Mr Frater was the only one who seemed able to marginally open the door to what appeared to be improvisation with a verbal nod to Richard Burton and his Welsh roots. It would have been nice to see a little more of this risk taking throughout in the true sense of Commedia dell'arte.

Normally a fault of many amateur groups is vocal volume but I think those living across the road from the Highbury Theatre could have heard the manic shrieks and cries of Bhupinder Dhamu as the estranged  daughter Clarice and the desperate commands of Mark Nattrass as the love struck Florindo.

It's actually quite a long play and at one point, close to what seemed like it should have been an interval, the stage was plunged into darkness and a soundtrack was played. Unfortunately this seemed like a cue for most of the audience to get up and head prematurely for the bar only to all shuffle awkwardly back to their seats as the lights came up and the play continued.  It was all very Commedia dell'arte indeed.

During the real interval, the Highbury team placed questionnaires on the seats for the audience to respond to as they as a theatrical group have seen audience numbers fall over the last couple of years. Personally I don't think that's down to any lack of quality as `The Servant of Two Masters' here proves again, that the word amateur sometimes remains an ill-fitting description for this and some other very pro performances. To 23-06-12

Jeff Grant 

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