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To laugh or not to laugh. That is the question.

September 2 2019 by Blaise Barham

To laugh or not to laugh. That is the question.

It’s been said that talking about humour is like dissecting a frog, in that few people are interested and the frog dies. Tragedy and comedy are also close partners. Tragedy is when you cut your finger and comedy is when your older brother cuts his! It appears that we often laugh to show that we are intelligent, as we’ve understood the joke, or because something bad didn’t happen to us.

The word ‘comedy’ derives from the Ancient Greek word ‘komoidia’ which relates to anything that intends to cause us to laugh. The comic poets of Ancient Greece used political satire to influence the public opinion of voters. There are also so many different forms of comedy such as slapstick, innuendo, farce, parody, pathos, satire, wordplay, romantic comedy, sarcasm, irony, self-deprecation and black comedy to name a few.

Commedia dell’arte (The Comedy of Art) was an improvised kind of popular comedy in Italian theatres in 16th to 18th Century. It is a traditional form of comedy that has a script but also improvised segments. There is often a struggle between young lovers to overcome problems that often result from the interference of elders. There is also often a ‘clever’ servant, frequent misunderstandings and mistaken identities. It also has stock stereotypical characters many of whom can be seen today in many comic characters such Mr Burns in The Simpsons or Basil in Fawlty Towers (Pantalone), Rene in Allo! Allo! or Manuel (Arlecchino). There is a lot of physical comedy which many actors such as Laurel and Hardy, Charlie Chaplin and Mr Bean have drawn on. It also employs many techniques on working an audience that stand-up comedians use today.

One of the most famous examples of commedia dell’arte is a play called A Servant of Two Masters written by Carlo Goldoni in 1746. This play uses so many of the examples of comedy mentioned above. This original play was adapted by Richard Bean and reset in the underworld of 1963 Brighton, England. It is called One Man, Two Guvnors and was first performed in the West-End in 2011, then Broadway in 2013 and has won many awards and wide critical acclaim.

Now, it’s your chance to see it here in the Queenstown Lakes region. One Man, Two Guvnors is being performed by Remarkable Theatre 12th – 21st September at Arrowtown Athenaeum Hall (tickets are available on Eventfinda). There are laughs here for all the family.

It is amazing that after two millennia we are still laughing at the same jokes!

by Blaise Barham

- Blaise Barham
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