It’s been billed as ‘the funniest play on the planet’…and they’re almost right. But it’s the bits in between the play that are the most hilarious.
At one point Gavin Spokes, playing the man who does indeed have two governors, admonishes the audience; “this is the National Theatre, not a pantomime”. Well, he’s wrong about that. It’s The National Theatre doing Pantomime – doing real old fashioned (but updated) Comedia dell’Arte panto, brilliantly. And like most pantos, the funniest scenes are the ones in which the meagre plot is thrown to the wind and the Lord of Misrule is given full rein.
The sidesplitting set piece is the “Dinner Scene” in which Francis Hensall is required to serve supper to both his masters in separate rooms of the same hotel. The fact that there are two swinging doors gives a clue to the chaos to come.
It’s pure, unadulterated slapstick of the highest traditional order.
Together with Alfie – a decrepit 86-year-old waiter on his first day in the job (played quite amazingly by Michael Dylan) – Spokes appears to completely run riot. A poor, innocent girl is coaxed up from the audience to help him out and her humiliation is complete. I say ‘appears’ because I’ve now seen this show three times and know the secret. As it closes this week, let me just say that “in panto all is not always as it appears”.
The brilliance of this production is the ability of its lead character to appear to be making it up as he goes along, whilst it is, in fact, a carefully choreographed piece of premeditated chaos. The adlibs are honed to perfection, yet are still convincingly ‘of the moment’. It is this ingenious deception that makes the show such a towering success. The audience feels it is party to a very special moment…as indeed it is; night after night after night.
Spokes is a hugely entertaining chubby clown, sweating profusely in his two-check suit. He’s surrounded by Richard Bean’s 1963 versions of Carlo Goldini’s original cast list for his 1746 comedy “The Servant of two Masters.”
Spotting the slapstick potential of this popular but predictable period play was another master stroke…that set Nicholas Hytner and the National Theatre on this long road to success. To be able to recruit celeb actors of the stature of EastEnders’ Shaun Williamson and Emma Barton to play supporting roles underlines the status the show has achieved. Even the extras are brilliantly funny.
The ‘con’ doesn’t really matter. The audience was wetting itself and having a ball. No excuse for utter merriment is ever needed. Be quick to catch the magic quick at Wolverhampton before it all turns to dust.
Visit www.grandtheatre.info for bookings & information about Wolverhampton’s Grand Theatre