Within moments of The Metromaniacs’ opening lines, I had visions of Blackadder dancing in my head. Specifically, I thought about an episode of Blackadder the Third, in which the Prince Regent (Hugh Laurie) hires a duo of famous actors to help him improve his image. Throughout the episode, the superstitious actors panic every time Edmund Blackadder (Rowan Atkinson) says, “Macbeth,” because they consider it bad luck to utter the name of “The Scottish Play.” In order to ward off the evil spirits, the actors perform a ritual of chanting the nonsense rhyme, “hot potato, orchestra stalls, Puck to make amends” while they play a modified game of pattycake, before painfully tweaking each other’s noses. It’s classic comedy gold, and the lampooning of the outlandish actors in that episode finds its long-lost cousin in The Metromaniacs farcical treatment of poetry-crazed, 18th-century Parisians.
Comparisons may be odious, but the point isn’t that the play is like Blackadder. They’re similar only in subject matter, i.e., Rococo pop culture; and in the fact that servants devise cunning plans.
Nobody can actually agree on the words to the actors’ nonsense rhyme from Blackadder, and the show’s writers have never clarified the matter, but I like the suggestion of “Puck to make amends” as the final line. Shakespeare’s Puck descends from folk tales of mischievous household sprites. Pucks could be induced to do chores, but they were more likely to make mischief and engage in schemes.
Both servants in Metromaniacs display Puck-ish tendencies, and Edmund Blackadder was a first-rate Puck (and then some). If the past four hundred years of literary hired hands outsmarting their superiors are any indication, we have a long-standing appreciation for clever butlers: Reginald Jeeves, Emilio the butler from Mr. Deeds, Cato from The Pink Panther, the various servants from The Three Musketeers, and Hans the clever servant from Grimm’s tales all come to mind. As far as enduring tropes are concerned, it looks as though this one will live on as long as there are audiences to laugh at the buffoonery of the upper crust.