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If you don’t already know it, the Old Joint Stock is an absolute jewel box of a theatre. Perched on the top floor of a grand nineteenth century building that was once a private bank, right opposite the front door of Birmingham’s St Philip’s Cathedral, it’s the jewel in the crown of a brilliant and vibrant pub conversion. For those of us who like their theatre experiences up close and personal it one of the midlands’ most perfect venues, and New Century’s production fitted it like a hand in a velvet glove.
I’ve somehow managed to miss Goldoni’s eighteenth century Venetian masterpiece until now, and this free adaptation may not be the text-book version. What this fast, inventive production does however is to allow a vibrant young cast to play out a series of comic roles, all traditional variants of the servant/master/young lover stereotypes with energy, speed and vitality. No set, minimal props and costumes make this touring show highly portable and perfectly conjures up the Commedia Dell’arte tradition of touring players who could be in Bologna one day, Birmingham the next. In an extra twist director Jennifer Rigby instills the proceedings with a Carry On quality both timeless and contemporary.
Jennifer Rigby was wonderfully droll as the marriageable daughter Clarice, playing her as a sort of extreme Miss Prism with some spectacular falls. Standing in as her father Pantaloon at ridiculously short notice Jim Kelly effortlessly managed the gravitas necessary for an archetypal old Dad. Kieron Attwood showed a nice range as the weasel-like inn-keeper and rather Charles Hawtreyish posh suitor Florindo, while Rebecca Hallworth gave a sort of RSC touch to the cross-dressing Beatrice alternating with a Babs Windsor-inspired maidservant Smeraldina.
But there’s always a star, and Alan Wales excelled as Truffaldino, the immortal servant of the title. His hyperactive demeanour masked a perfectly controlled core as the mayhem mounted around him. Brilliantly physical, as a comedian Mr. Wales is a true original whose delivery of lines is an object lesson in how to act. Not only did I laugh, he actually had me in tears of laughter that were still in my eyes at the play’s end. Sublime.
The production continues on tour throughout the autumn.
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