The Good & Faithful Servant

Mary Dragun 5 February 2010

The Corpus Playroom Lateshow – Tues 2nd-Sat 6th February

3/5

Joe Orton’s ‘The Good and Faithful Servant’ is a dark satire that reads increasingly less like comedy and more like the modern tragedy of corporate allegiance depicted by Miller in ‘Death of a Salesman’. By the time we reach the eighteenth scene of this one-act play, Buchanan (Lewis Owen), the eponymous ‘faithful servant’, epitomises the tragic figure wracked by a lifetime’s service to his firm: he lies in bed, tears streaming down his face, completely dehumanised in being dependent on his hearing-aid, glasses, and artificial arm. The comedy has disappeared out of sight. Added to the fact that the play was first produced for television, it is a very difficult comedy to pull off on stage. The Corpus production does, however, manage to tease out the play’s limited farcical side.

Much of the comedy is evinced through Olivia Crellin’s impressive performance as the patronising and control-obsessive Mrs Vealfoy. The additions to the stage directions in the script – most notably, Vealfoy’s furtive indulgence in chocolate-scoffing – contribute to such character development. This is also the case with Ray’s pointed trouser-zipping before Buchanan enters his room in scene eleven, a nice touch suggestive of his careless flippancy.

Whilst Michael Christie does, indeed, capture the indolent and apathetic dimension of Ray’s character with comedic effect, this is stressed so heavily that his anger at Buchanan in scenes eleven and twelve is somewhat unconvincing. Similarly, Owen as Buchanan effectively brings out the pathos of his character at the expense of exploring his more violent nature. This is most marked in a moment of potentially unleashed destruction in which, the stage directions inform us, Buchanan ‘smashes’ the objects ‘to pieces’, yet, in this production, rendered oddly ambiguous: it was unclear whether the intended effect of Buchanan’s feeble attempts to break the toaster was comedic or tragic.

The technical aspects of the play are definitely worth mention: the transition between scenes is efficient, and the music effects – memorably, the ticking of a clock at the opening of the scenes set in Vealfoy’s office – capture the mood of a scene. The soundtrack is excellent and the songs marking the end of each scene are clearly carefully chosen; for instance, the dismissive undertone of Vealfoy’s glib assertion – ‘we’ve no further need of you’ – is cleverly brought to the fore by Roy Charles’ ‘Hit the Road, Jack’.

‘The Good and Faithful Servant’ at Corpus is, on the whole, a faithful rendition of Orton’s work. Although the characters of Buchanan and Ray could be more fully developed (to suggest, for instance, the rage of the former or evince more sympathy for the latter) this would inevitably involve stressing the tragic aspect of the play – one which the director clearly wished to avoid in promoting the production as Orton’s ‘most satirical’ comedy. The strain of emphasising this dimension of the play, however, is evident and unsurprising, given that the reality Orton depicts is too grimly truthful to provoke more than a few laughs.

Mary Dragun