Owain Arthur in One Man, Two Guvnors | Sydney Theatre (Pic: Lisa Tomasetti)

I can’t help but wonder what Carlo Goldoni would’ve made of it. Richard Bean’s remake of The Servant Of Two Masters (with songs by Grant Olding), One Man, Two Guvnors, has certainly given the predecessor an idiomatic overhaul. And it’s gone down exceptionally well.

The National Theatre of Great Britain’s production — brought to Sydney via the Sydney Theatre Company, with a Melbourne Theatre Company production to follow — progressed from its home base to the West End and Broadway, collecting awards and raves like a boat does barnacles. It’s not surprising. For one thing, it dishes up a huge helping of nostalgia, given its seeing in the swinging ’60s. On a demographic basis alone, its bound to succeed, playing right into the hands, hearts and minds of baby boomers.

Frankly, it’s worth the price of admission for but two of its lead performers (I deliberately use the term, for they’re more than actors). Owain Arthur as Francis “Confidential” Henshall (the servant) explodes with colour, character and charisma from the very first moment he appears on stage. It strikes me he’s somewhat after the style of a Matt Lucas; but nonetheless sports his own comic identity, which is bound to transcend this production. Mark Jackson, as 87-year-old waiter Alfie, is a reincarnation of Freddie Frinton in Dinner For One. After a short while, you find yourself chuckling in anticipation of his physical comedy.

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But there’s so much more on offer. Edward Bennett, with his bordering-on-buck-teeth and effete, public school pompousness, as (master) Stanley Stubbers, pays oblique homage to the likes of Kenneth Williams; a kind of lovechild of Peter Cook and Noel Coward. Amy Booth-Steel’s buxom-and-then-some Dolly lends herself to comparison with other Carry On characters: those played saucily by Joan Sims. Yes, it’s all very “how’s your father?”.

Nick Cavaliere’s rotund, pinstriped lawyer (Flash) Harry Dangle is a little more recessive, but that’s more to do with the extroversions of the characters written around him than any lacking on his part. Colin Mace is archetypal as Charlie “The Duck” Clench; a veritable “Arfur” Daley in wolf’s clothing. Kelly Shirley’s clueless Pauline, with her pitiful catchcry, “I don’t understand!”, theatrically prefigures the emergence, decades later, of the certifiable bimbo. Leon Williams’ Alan Dangle makes a merciless mockery of hipster actors, then and now. Rosie Wyatt’s Rachel Crabbe is a kind of Rosalind in working-class, lowlife guise, a woman of cunning disguise.

The supporting cast is outstanding as well, including a very cruelly conceived audience plant, that played us all in that uncomfortable “is she, or isn’t she?” way.

The whole cast seems relaxed and well able to improvise. There’s more than the odd breakout of unscripted laughter and the fourth wall, well, what fourth wall? When the ever-ravenous harlequin Henshall enquired as to whether anyone had a sandwich, an audience member responded, leading to a prolonged exchange and extempore gags, at the volunteer’s expense, much to our collective amusement. In this sense, it’s in the true spirit of Goldoni, who, especially in his earlier drafts plumped for considerable improvisation — so much so his script was more of an outline.

The production notably boasts a “physical comedy director” in Cal McCrystal, who deserves a big-up, as does revival director and choreographer Adam Penford, since I can’t imagine any incarnation would’ve or could’ve measurably bettered this one. Mark Thompson’s retro design works extraordinarily well, is witty (check out Henshall’s checked-on-checked garb) and, all jokes aside, quite a work of art.

Speaking of Truffaldinos, in keeping with Goldoni’s original conceit, the always hungry Henshall is only satiated when he finds love with Dolly; though he admits it’d be a tough decision, should he have to choose between food and funny business.

My only umbrage with the production would be with sound designer Paul Arditti and engineer Ross Chatfield: Oldings lyrics were mostly muddy, indistinct and indistinguishable; similarly, much of the dialogue was lost and it wasn’t entirely due to lack of diction or rapid-fire lines in unfamiliar accents. Given the pedigree, likely budget and experience in a variety of venues, it’s really inexcusable.

Beatrice becomes Rosie; Venice becomes Brighton; the entire catastrophe takes on a Resoration-era air, albeit dragged down the class ladder several rungs, via some of the form’s latter-day descendants. Kind of Thomas Betterton meets Benny Hill. It seems, just as Prohibition was the best thing that ever happened to the liquor industry, an almost two decades in duration ban on public performance from 1640 was a godsend for British comedy, which still goes from strength to strength.

One Man, Two Guvnors is the best of British, with almost universal appeal. Director (Sir) Nicholas Hytner, via Goldoni, has another number one “hyt” on his hands. Down under, this time.

The details: One Man, Two Guvnors plays Sydney Theatre until May 11 — tickets on the STC website. The MTC season is at the Playhouse, Arts Centre on May 17 to June 22.