I'm relieved to report that Tim Supple's wonderfully entertaining new production of A Servant to Two Masters by Carlo Goldoni falls smack into the former category. Goldoni's last outing by the RSC was four years ago when David Troughton was hugely successful as a country bumpkin and his sophisticated roue of an identical sibling in The Venetian Twins. Now it is Jason Watkins' turn - one of our most versatile, accomplished, and undersung actors - to notch up an even more elating triumph with a not dissimilar tour de force here.
The difference is that instead of playing a pair of distinct people, Watkins performs the role of Truffaldino, a servant who, desperate to fill his empty, neglected stomach, snatches the opportunity to moonlight and hold down a couple of jobs, unbeknownst to the two masters. As fate would have it, one of these is a woman in male disguise (Claire Cox) who just happens to be searching for her lover, who just happens to be - yes, you've got it - Truffaldino's other boss.
The best bits of the show are the elaborate physical routines which Watkins, with his urchin baby-face, half-mast trousers and cartwheeling dexterity, delivers with a deliciously unforced humour. He's the perfect antidote to commedia dell'arte's most frequent exponent in this country - the elephantinely roguish and audience-goosing Marcello Magni. Here you get a master class in fleet, mischievous comic timing from simply watching Watkins attempt to orchestrate the delivery of two copious waiter-service meals to his divergent employers in adjacent hotel rooms. His hunger keeps throwing a spanner in the works, and as his resistance breaks down, he ends up practically having sex with a bowl of ratatouille.
At one point a character tells another to get a move on, or Venice will have sunk. Supple's production, wittily staged in traverse formation, and a cast rich in idiosyncracy takes such advice to heart, delivering a brilliantly pacey and intelligent pantomime for adults.
To 22 Jan, 01789 295623. A version of this review appeared in later editions of yesterday's paperReuse content