Richard Bean, based on The Servant to Two Masters by Carlo Goldoni; songs by Grant Olding
Octagon Theatre Bolton, Theatre by the Lake Keswick, Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse
Octagon Theatre Bolton, May 26-June 25, 2022; 2hr 30min
(Also at Liverpool Playhouse, June 29-July 16; Theatre by the Lake, July 21-September 3)
Timing is everything, goes the saying, and never was it more true than in this hugely enjoyable comedy.
Based upon Goldoni's The Servant of Two Masters written in 1746, Richard Bean's updated version for the National Theatre, directed by Nicholas Hytner, opened to critical acclaim and public laughter in 2011.
This new production at Bolton Octagon (touring to Liverpool Playhouse and Keswick's Theatre By The Lake) might not enjoy the former's exalted casts and budget, but under the deft direction of Lotte Wakeham – and what an asset she has been to this theatre – retains all of its joy.
It is Brighton in 1963 and our hero, Francis Henshall, broke and hungry, finds himself working for not one but two employers, and must try to keep them apart to avoid his double life being revealed. What follows is a trail of misunderstandings, disguised identities and romantic entanglements.
The set (Colin Falconer) has the relatively simple but effective appearance of a slightly seedy pier-end and, as in all the best farces, has several doors to hide behind, make inopportune appearances from, or have slammed in the face.
The period feel is enhanced by the music, and praise must go to the entire cast, whose members provide a lively skiffle accompaniment and vocals.
The high points of the show are of course the wonderful one-liners, staccato repartee, audience involvement and above all the physical slapstick. This is where the timing is crucial, and it works superbly.
The entire cast gives the impression of thoroughly enjoying themselves – a good sign; no-one wants to watch tired and jaded actors in a comedy.
Francis, a role created in the original by James Corden, is played here by Jordan Pearson, surprisingly in his professional stage debut, and it's a performance of great confidence and energy. He could be an actor to watch.
The show-stealer though is Javier Marzan as 87-year-old waiter Alfie, in his first day in the job, trying to follow instructions to deliver orders for meals to two different guv'nors. He doesn't say much but it's a performance very reminiscent of Manuel in Fawlty Towers; a gift of a part for its over-the-top silliness. Doddery, deaf and reliant on a dodgy pacemaker, poor old Alfie becomes the play's punchball – hilariously so.
Info and tickets here