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.
Girl from the North Country is an extraordinary collaboration between the playwright Conor McPherson and the musician and song writer Bob Dylan. The result is a magical work where McPherson’s portrait of families struggling to survive in Depression America is transfigured into an uplifting theatrical experience by the ravishing period arrangements of Dylan’s songs.
The play opened at the Old Vic Theatre in London in 2017 to a rapturous response and reviews, and was followed by runs in the West End and New York.
This is a very special episode, first because I am privileged to talk with none other than the play’s author Conor McPherson, and secondly because we have also been given kind permission to include several extracts from the original cast recording of the music from the first London production.
Garry Essendine is a star of the London stage with an ego and celebrity lifestyle to match. But as he passes forty his excesses threaten to bring down the entire structure of his professional and personal life. Essendine is the thinly disguised alter-ego of playwright and performer Noel Coward, whose tussle with his own fame is the subject of his classic 3-act, 4-door farce Present Laughter. First performed in 1942 with Coward himself as the lead, the play has since attracted a glittering list of stars who could not resist the flamboyant turn, including most recently Andrew Scott in an Olivier award-winning performance at the Old Vic in 2019. Joining me to reexamine Coward’s ‘light comedy’ in the 21st century is theatrical agent and Coward aficionado, Alan Brodie.
The dramatic tragedy of a wife who murders her own two sons in a desperate act of grief and revenge remains as disturbing and deeply moving as when it was written nearly 2,500 years ago. Medea by Euripides is timeless not only because of our fascination with Medea’s horrific crime, but for the poetry of its language, and its unflinching portrayal of a woman all but powerless in a patriarchal world. The play was recently revived at the National Theatre with a stunning performance by Helen McCrory in the title role, which is now available to view on the National Theatre at Home. I’m joined by renowned classical scholar Edith Hall to explore our enduring fascination with Medea.
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 …