026 – A Servant to Two Masters, by Carlo Goldoni (& One Man Two Guvnors by Richard Bean)
Carlo Goldoni devised his classic Commedia dell’Arte play A Servant to Two Masters in 1746 as a series of sketches and prompts for a company of actors to improvise on. Disappointed by the inconsistency of their performances he determined to write out a full script to ensure that his vision would be properly presented and preserved. Goldoni’s wonderful theatrical construction combines a hopelessly convoluted plot, an array of archetypal comic characters, moments of improvised inspiration, and knockdown slapstick routines, and it became a template for what we know as farce and pantomime.
The story of the hapless servant who takes on two jobs in a bid to secure his next meal has been revived many times over, most recently in Lee Hall’s adaptation for the Royal Shakespeare Company, a version that has become a set text on the A Level Drama curriculum, and in Richard Bean’s hilarious update One Man Two Guvnors, which the National Theatre produced in 2011 with James Corden in incomparable form as the wily servant. The NT production went on to transfer to London’s West End and to Broadway, and was streamed on TV to a global audience during the pandemic lockdown in the Summer of 2020.
I’m joined in this episode by writer and director Justine Greene to explore both Goldoni’s original play and the world of Commedia dell’Arte, as well as Richard Bean’s smash hit. One Podcast Two Plays!
Justin Greene is a director, writer and producer for theatre, television and radio. His writing credits include the musical Spend Spend Spend, which he wrote the book and lyrics for with composer Steve Brown, and also directed. The show won the Evening Standard, Critics Circle and Barclays Theatre awards for Best Musical and was nominated for an Olivier in the same category. He co-authored with Steve Cooke the sci-fi comedy Totally Foxed, which premiered at the Nuffield Theatre in Southampton and later toured nationally, an adaptation of Boccaccio’s The Decameron for Paines Plough, which won an Edinburgh Festival Fringe First award, and Ludwig & Bertie, a farce about the meeting of Bertrand Russell and Ludwig Wittgenstein.
As a director Justin has been Associate Director at the Leicester Haymarket Theatre and Paines Plough, and for four years was Artistic Director of the Nuffield Theatre in Southampton. He has directed shows in the West End and in countless theatres around the country.
The Footnotes to our episode on A Servant to Two Masters and One Man Two Guvnors include a cast list of Commedia dell’Arte characters, notes on the harlequin’s hunger and cross-dressing for power in a patriarchal world.
Tom Stoppard’s ambitious new play Leopoldstadt is a sweeping work of history and ideas which charts the diaspora and decline of an Austrian Jewish family through the convulsive events of the first half of the twentieth century. It addresses profound moral questions of identity, memory and prejudice that are insistently relevant in our time. It is not only a towering intellectual achievement, it is also very personally poignant because it is based partly on Stoppard’s own remarkable family history.
Leopoldstadt opened in the West End in January 2020, only to be closed prematurely by the pandemic a few weeks later. Happily it has returned to the London stage this Autumn, and I am privileged and delighted to talk in this episode with the director of the London productions, playwright Patrick Marber.
Footnotes Volume 3 is a recording of the facts and observations that we’ve published on the website to supplement the plays that we’ve covered in episodes 24-31. A smorgasbord of trivia and analysis ranging from Greek Tragedy to the stock characters of Commedia dell’Arte , through the music of Bob Dylan, the filming of Caryl Churchill’s Escaped Alone during lockdown, and the theatrical installations of Samuel Beckett.
A compendium of dramatic intelligence!
Samuel Beckett’s third great dramatic masterpiece Happy Days is a timeless exploration of existential threat and personal survival. It’s central image of Winnie buried in a mound of scorched earth also speaks to our own time when many have endured enforced confinement in a world struck by collective disaster.
Irish actress and Beckett scholar Lisa Dwan, fresh from her triumphant performance as Winnie at the Riverside Studios in London, joins us to share her unique experience of playing Beckett and this majestic play.
Before the theatres went dark this month I was lucky enough to see Caryl Churchill’s A Number at the Bridge, and spend more than seven hours in thrall to Robert Lepage’s Seven Streams of the River Ota at the National. Plus, some thoughts on what we miss when there is no theatre.
Another great mix of shows this month, from Tom Stoppard’s new play, to Ibsen, Beckett and newer plays in smaller London venues.
The January roundup included both classic plays, such as The Duchess of Malfi, Uncle Vanya and Three Sisters, as well as recent musicals Dear Evan Hansen and Girl from the North Country …