First Night: A pleasure trip down comedy's Grand Canal

The Servant Of Two Masters RSC Stratford

THOSE ITALIAN words, Commedia dell'Arte, have been known to strike dread into the hearts of intelligent playgoers. Done fast and well, this style of theatre, with its formulaic slapstick and its stock types, can be as exhilarating as a trip down the Grand Canal. Done ploddingly, as is too often the case in this country, and it can feel to an audience more like being stuck in Pizza Express on a wet day in Wigan.

Tim Supple's wonderfully entertaining new production of A Servant of Two Masters by Goldoni falls smack into the former category.

The last outing the RSC gave this prolific 18th-century writer was four years ago when David Troughton had a hugesuccess playing both a George Formby-type country bumpkin and his sophisticated identical sibling in The Venetian Twins.Now it is the turn of Jason Watkins, one of our most versatile and accomplished actors, to notch up an even more elating triumph.

The difference is that instead of playing a pair of separate people, Watkins performs the role of Truffaldino, a servant who, desperate to fill his empty stomach, snatches the opportunity to moonlight and hold down a couple of jobs simultaneously, unbeknown to his 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.

Calling his ruse "a miracle of time management" in Lee Hall's sparky and very funny adaptation, the split personality servant also makes a good class point about his "downsizing of the servant economy". If the masters had thought of it "it'd be an innovation".

The best bits of the show are the elaborate physical routines which Watkins, with his urchin baby face, half-mast trousers and cart-wheeling dexterity, delivers with a deliciously unforced humour. He is the perfect antidote to Commedia dell'Arte's most frequent exponent in England, the roguish Marcello Magni.

Here, by contrast, you get a master class in fleet, mischievous comic timing just by watching Watkins attempt to orchestrate the delivery of two copious meals to adjacent hotel rooms, housing his divergent masters. His hunger keeps throwing an enormous spanner into the works and he ends up practically making love to the ratatouille.

At one point, a character tells another to "get a move on, or Venice will have sunk". Supple, in this witty traverse-formation staging, and a cast rich in idiosyncrasy do not need this advice.

Well timed seasonally, Servant is a delightfully well paced alternative to pantomime.

Paul Taylor

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: New Business Development Manager / Sales - UK New Business

£24000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Join a fast growing, UK based I...

MBDA UK Ltd: Mission Planning and Control Solutions Systems Engineer

Competitive salary & benefits: MBDA UK Ltd: What’s the opportunity? A pro-act...

MBDA UK Ltd: System Design Capability

Competitive salary & benefits: MBDA UK Ltd: What’s the opportunity? The small...

Recruitment Genius: Time Served Fabricator / Welders - Immediate Start

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fabricator welder required for ...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific