Yorkshire vim and vigour revives farce

The Man with Two Gaffers

Northern Broadsides

Viaduct Theatre

THERE is always a special atmosphere at the Viaduct whenever Northern Broad-sides are here. And Blake Morrison’s adaptation of Carlo Goldoni’s 18th-century Italian farce A Servant of Two Masters lifted the roof.

Morrison’s hometown of Skipton could hardly be called the Venice of the north, but that is where the action takes place.

Barry Rutter, who also directs, gives a towering performance as Arthur Dodge, the opportunising lackey with divided loyalties.

His first gaffer is Kate Ambler’s feisty Charlotte Ramsay, disguised as her late brother Charles.

Gaffer number two is Frank Flowers, played by Simon Holland Roberts with a Scouser’s abrupt charm.

Charlotte is determinedly pursuing him up and down the Leeds-Liverpool Canal – not, as he suspects, because he murdered her brother but because she loves him.

Although we sense their eventual reunion, there are riotous scenes on the way, and much scope for Rutter’s comic genius, as Arthur gets himself into one scrape after another, trying to keep them apart.

In the equally chaotic sub-plot, we find a group of hard-working actors (all with fine singing voices) rising way above their stock roles. Dicken Ashworth (Coronation Street’s Geoff Horten in the 1990s) looks as though he was born to play the pig-headed farmer – father of Victoria Fleming’s likeable Clarice.

The part of her lover Stephen gives Matt Connor a chance to do a good line in outrage when it seems he is being passed over for Charles Ramsay.

The smoothly calculating Reverend Lumb is done to a turn by Roy North, another Broadsides veteran – and Nicola Sanderson’s ample housekeeper with a soft spot for Arthur is at least his equal in cheek.

It all makes for a laugh a minute and Blake Morrison has revived what was in danger of becoming a tired old repertory farce with a shot of Yorkshire vim and vigour.

Andrew Liddle