The smile is brought to your face as soon as you enter the buzzing auditorium when visiting this National Theatre cash cow. The four piece band play us in with such enthusiasm and vigour that you can’t help but get sucked into the joy that is about to be unleashed upon you in this startlingly funny adaptation of Goldoni’s comedy The Servant of Two Masters.
Set amongst the Mods and Rockers of the swinging sixties and with a nostalgic Brighton seaside backdrop we are bathed in classic slapstick comedy that reminds you of Carry On and Benny Hill, but infinitely cleverer and delivered with such delicious timing and character that its belly laughs all the way.
Our man of the title is Francis Henshall who finds himself working for two bosses. Confusion and chaos follow with petty criminals, dim witted toffs and hapless lovers all thrown into the mix before a hopelessly happy ending caps it all off.
Owain Arthur is simply sublime as Henshall and seems to ooze comedy through every poor of his body. Stepping across the fourth wall and engaging with the audience (and at times involving them as well) is done with such charm and ease that you are left wondering what could possibly happen next. It’s not just the extraordinary energy that Arthur demonstrates though that makes this such a triumph but also the warmth with which he does so.
Whilst support is strong all round there must also be special mention of Peter Caulfield as the doddery old Waiter Alfie. With Morph like flexibility he careers around the stage serving dinner with trips and falls that genuinely do have your sides hurting.
Nicholas Hytner has created a comic tour de force with this show. As it is currently one of three major West End transfers to come out of the National and have a long and enduring life it is just another of the great legacies that he will leave behind when moving on to pastures new from the great institution.