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.
Justin recommended Gas by George Kaiser.
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.
Anton Chekhov’s play The Seagull was a disaster on its opening night in St Petersburg in 1896. The unsettling blend of comedy and pathos that confused the first critics and audience were subsequently recognised as seminal in the evolution of modern drama.
I’m delighted to welcome back playwright and professor, Dan Rebellato, to talk about Chekhov and his timeless play.
Patrick Marber’s play Closer depicts a merry-go-round of metropolitan relationships powered by sex and betrayal. Its clever and candid dissection of the destructive power of sexual desire hit a contemporary nerve when it premiered in 1997.
Clare Lizzimore, director of a new production at the Lyric Hammersmith, joins me to explore how the play’s unflinching sexual politics has aged twenty-five years later.
Jez Butterworth’s play Jersualem is one of the landmark plays of the 21st century, acclaimed for both its lyrical and elusive text exploring English identity, and for its electrifying theatrical production. The once-in-a lifetime performance is happily being repeated with the current West End revival, and it seems fitting that our 50th episode be devoted to this remarkable play. I’m joined by David Ian Rabey, Emeritus Professor at Aberystwyth University and author of The Theatre and Films of Jez Butterworth.