• Fri. Apr 12th, 2024

Fringe 2022 : La Serva Padrona Review

ByAgnes Perry-Robinson

Aug 8, 2022
La Serva Padrona -David Hughes is pulling facial expressions behind two masks

Rating: 5 out of 5.

A man with a fantastic moustache and an even more fantastic pair of blue dungarees takes the stage. Walking down Nicolson Street to get to the venue at peak Fringe queueing time, I had passed all manner of bizarre attire but this particular look surprised me. My first thought was this: ‘how would one go about explaining to Pergolesi that this bristly fellow would be performing every role in his chef-d’oeuvre; without an orchestra, without costumes, and instead only armed with the buoyant jingles of a dusty cassette player? How would he react? Let this review act as my explanation for that rather stern Baroque composer. 

David William Hughes is something of a puppeteer, a ventriloquist and above all, a splendid host. Audience participation can seem forced, even at times twee, but Hughes manages to engage and include every one of us in a truly charming manner. His sole props are two lurid green and orange facial cutouts. Moving between the two at an impressive speed, Hughes’ whole demeanour changes between the feisty maidservant Serpina and her gruff master Uberto. Indeed, Hughes’ moustache seems to disappear and his features soften every time his voice rises an octave. It is an impressive feat and a marvel to watch as he morphs skilfully between characters.

David Hughes picturred with his casette tape and player holding one of his masks

At the same time as being a delightfully funny sketch, the underlying message is a poignant one and one that ripples through this year’s Fringe. Hughes mourns the detrimental impact of Covid-19 on the Arts and sings for a triumphant rebirth. He tells the story of La Serva Padrona as the ‘assistant to the assistant manager’ of the Britische Staatsoper (formally The British Opera) who finds himself to be the only member of the opera house left following pandemic-induced budget cuts. 

Hughes undergoes a journey to revive opera whilst also celebrating the importance of the backstage: the unseen pillars of the arts, a nod and a thank you to every person who has helped this post-Covid revival come to fruition. His only accompanist on stage is a cassette player, a rather unhelpful co-performer that seems to have its own share of technical issues. It is obvious to see that Hughes is a true performer as his warmth and genuine passion flood the venue. We are a merry audience indeed, and all of a sudden it is clear that in this very room, on this very day, opera has been revived, just as he promised it would be. Pergolesi himself, had he witnessed the unique genius that is David Hughes’ La Serva Padrona, would be running to Armstrong’s to purchase some blue dungarees. 

La Serva Padrona is showing at theSpace from the 7th-13th August

Press Images courtesy of David Williams