(By Will Shakespeare) (Adelaide University Theatre Guild, 7 May 2016) (Dir. Gary George & Angela Short)
Early Shakespeare – it’s a kind of Dumb and Dumber – two friends scrap over the same girl, leading to slander, exile and attempted rape, with all merrily forgiven in the wash-up: not the Bard’s best by a long chalk, but no one can resist this early emanation of two great characters, the servant, Launce, and his mischievous dog, Crab. Let’s hear about Crab from the crypto St. Francis, Act IV, Scene IV:
“When a man’s servant shall play the cur with him,
look you, it goes hard: one that I brought up of a
puppy; one that I saved from drowning, when three or
four of his blind brothers and sisters went to it.
I have taught him, even as one would say precisely,
‘thus I would teach a dog.’ I was sent to deliver
him as a present to Mistress Silvia from my master;
and I came no sooner into the dining-chamber but he
steps me to her trencher and steals her capon’s leg:
O, ’tis a foul thing when a cur cannot keep himself
in all companies! I would have, as one should say,
one that takes upon him to be a dog indeed, to be,
as it were, a dog at all things. If I had not had
more wit than he, to take a fault upon me that he did,
I think verily he had been hanged for’t; sure as I
live, he had suffered for’t; you shall judge. He
thrusts me himself into the company of three or four
gentlemanlike dogs under the duke’s table: he had
not been there–bless the mark!–a pissing while, but
all the chamber smelt him. ‘Out with the dog!’ says
one: ‘What cur is that?’ says another: ‘Whip him
out’ says the third: ‘Hang him up’ says the duke.
I, having been acquainted with the smell before,
knew it was Crab, and goes me to the fellow that
whips the dogs: ‘Friend,’ quoth I, ‘you mean to whip
the dog?’ ‘Ay, marry, do I,’ quoth he. ‘You do him
the more wrong,’ quoth I; ”twas I did the thing you
wot of.’ He makes me no more ado, but whips me out
of the chamber. How many masters would do this for
his servant? Nay, I’ll be sworn, I have sat in the
stocks for puddings he hath stolen, otherwise he had
been executed; I have stood on the pillory for geese
he hath killed, otherwise he had suffered for’t.
Thou thinkest not of this now. Nay, I remember the
trick you served me when I took my leave of Madam
Silvia: did not I bid thee still mark me and do as I
do? when didst thou see me heave up my leg and make
water against a gentlewoman’s farthingale? didst
thou ever see me do such a trick?”
Any dog is lucky with such a master.
On a rainy Saturday night, the Adelaide University Theatre Guild gave us an uneven but worthy production of this problematic play, that needs some work, There are at least 20 minutes that could be excised to advantage, and to fill in the gap, several in the cast could slow down. A number blurted their lines as though late for a train, or rehearsing a revival of His Girl Friday. Your correspondent is aging and perhaps losing hearing and humour, but we do need some attempt at enunciation. Yes, it’s a comedy but a pretty perverse one: appropriately in this production, the denouement (in a exile wasteland populated by types from Escape From New York) rolls out, a bit like something from Tennessee Williams, in stark terms that pull the audience up short, as well as the brides to be, looking appropriately bereft as the two rivals, now pals again, go off almost like they are a couple.
Somehow, it almost works – TVC has seen enough German Opera to be impervious (our coat of hard varnish) to modern revisionism, so we look past the lap tops, mobile phones and post-punk feel – and kudos overall for the attempt, which should improve in the run. Matthew Chapman and Nicholas Clippingdale, in the roles of wronged rival and his servant, were amusing and confident: Lindsay Dunn (the Duke) spoke best among the cast and could well pass as stunt-double for the mid-career Anthony Hopkins; Kate van der Horst was feisty as Silvia. The stand-outs, by unanimous acclaim, were Matt Houston as the servant, Launce (in this production, called ‘Lance’) and Diesel as his canine master. Both should have their own TV show: Houston was an outrageous scene-stealer and the dog was perfect.