POINTLESS, probably, to go on too much about Richard Bean’s play for the National Theatre being inspired by Carlo Goldini’s 18th Century comedy, Servant of Two Masters.
You’ll think periwigs, tight trousers and language out of books that spurt dust when you snap them shut.
Imagine instead a theatrical collision involving farce, slapstick, panto and – importantly – stand-up.
Stand-up comedians have been cast in the leading role of Francis Henshall, the hapless and famished man with two guvnors.
The excellent Rufus Hound is the latest to make whoopee with the play’s fantastic linguistic and visual jokes, dizzying us with one-liners while hurling food and dragging audience members up on stage.
It smacks of theatre for a young audience raised on Live at the Apollo but the first night veterans at the Theatre Royal – me included, I suppose – were more than tittering.
There is a plot which starts to unfold after the nice skiffle band – yes, there’s live music too – thrums its last pre-Beatles chord.
We’re in Brighton where murder happens, as you’ll know if you’ve read Brighton Rock, and Charlie ‘the Duck’ Clench and his henchmen are celebrating the engagement of cerebrally challenged daughter Pauline to would-be actor Harry Dangle, her actual intended having been bumped off.
It’s 1963, although this is a knowing and arch 1960s recreated with the benefit of hindsight. Characters constantly ask questions to which we know the answers.
Frankly, though, the plot’s not the thing. What the play, directed by Nicholas Hytner, is all about is brilliantly controlled mayhem.
One long sequence involves a very old swing doors gag and an even older waiter. Vicious, shameless, hilarious.