The Servant (1973)

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Poster by Poster Designer

by Robin Maugham

Directed by John Harris

Performances: June 1973, Theatre


Text about the play




"Gentleman's Gentleman"

Robert Maugham's novel "The Servant" achieved its wider fame at second hand, through the powerful Joseph Losey film, scripted by Harold Pinter and dominated by Dirk Bogard's chilling performance as the servant-turned-master Barrett.

Maugham's own adaptation for the stage enabled him, as it were, to get out from under this formidable team, and to speak with his own voice. It proves to be no unworthy voice, though I feel a more experienced dramatist would have found a more free-flowing alternative to the nine self-contained scenes which defeat the tensions of his play.

The theme is one of psycho-sexual domination, as the deferential Barret works on the weakness of his master Tony. Like some evil weed pushing its way through a garden he gradually comes to rule the house on his own terms leaving the weak and drunken Tony trailing weakly at his command.

I have no space to discuss the fascinating question of how Maugham's treatment of the story compares with Pinter's, though I would have much to say on that subject. The producer at the S.L.T.C. is John Harris, and his action is placed in an admirable split-level set representing living room, kitchen and bedroom.

The gaps between the scenes, though no doubt unavoidable, work against the drama. But there can be no doubt that in Robert Holden, Mr Harris has found a Barrett of very high voltage.

The actor establishes his credentials at the first entrance. He combines a commonplace voice with impeccable manners, yet we can see that there is an elusive air of corruption about him. He is sizing up the citadel prior to planning his assault on its defences.

As th play proceeds, and we see Barrett in his changing moods, he always seems to play them with icy calculation, and his scornful speech to a broken Tony, when it comes, is splendidly delivered and absolutely right.

The rest of the production is not so good. Brian Scoltock as Tony and Janet Blackely, as the girl who loves him, lack the bright sophistication which would give deadly point to Barrett's scheming. Roger Dettmeer needs more weight as Tony's publisher friend Richard Merton. All in all, the world that comes into collision with Barrett's is not clearly enough defined.

Vivienne Miles, as the sensual Vera, is good in her scenes with Barrettt, though inclined when with Tony to play it with gloves on, Sarah Saunders has a certain flaunting power as the second of Barrett's imports, and her work nicely brings the play to its sad conclusion.

Donald Madgwick, The Croydon Advertiser.


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