Last night, at the Theatre Royal in Brighton, Richard Bean’s acclaimed adaptation of Goldoni’s ‘Servant of Two Masters’ finally arrived at its reimagined home on the south coast. Having never seen the production before I was full of anticipation for this global hit show and although I suspect it isn’t as pitch perfect as the original National Theatre production, for its sheer bravura and ensemble showmanship it was a hugely entertaining way to spend a cold December night.
The original Goldoni piece was written in the dying days of Commedia dell’arte and functioned both as a homage and parody. It celebrated the spontaneity of those gifted performers who could entertain an audience with no script, a perfunctory plot and a stock character with a repertoire of witty, smutty and rhyming asides. I can imagine the joy it brought to audiences as a live event with seemingly spontaneous comedy.
This production, although a long way from its 15th century theatrical roots, works best when we believe what is happening is spontaneous. Audience involvement plays a key role in the first half and I was hoodwinked and delighted by this ‘breaking down the fourth wall’. Unfortunately the second half fails to deliver quite as effectively because the joke has reached its climax.
Thankfully the cast never lose momentum, the slapstick escalates and its tight construction and inventive setups keep the piece moving at a breakneck speed. The staging was slick with scene changes punctuated by the cast performing alongside the in-house 1960’s band ‘The Craze’.
Not to mention what a pleasure it was to see the cartoonish depictions of Black Lion Street and the iconic Brighton shoreline whilst sitting a stones-throw from the seafront.
Gavin Spokes as Francis Henshall was an endearing, effusive host for the evening but one wonders how far the characterisation has been allowed to stray from the parameters established by James Corden in its first conception.
Jasmyn Banks and Edward Hancock also deserve mention for the boldness and precision of their comic performances. The success of this show is undoubtable, and it continues to entertain fresh audiences as a piece of new comedy and old farce. My hope for the future of this particular production is that the producers will allow the characters to evolve with the actors playing them so that the jokes never become stale and the spirit and spontaneity of Commedia dell’arte can survive another century.