The National Theatre’s production of Richard Bean’s comedy is as vibrantly funny as ever.
It would be fair to say that right now what the British public need right now is a laugh – particularly if they are missing going to the theatre – which is why it was a stroke of genius for the National Theatre to stream One Man, Two Guvnors.
Richard Bean’s brilliantly funny play combines physical comedy with a script filled with plenty of memorable lines that it is difficult not to be swept away by with all the chaos that takes place throughout.
Based on the Servant of Two Masters, a 1743 comedy by the Italian playwright Carlo Goldoni, One Man, Two Guvnors follows the story of Francis Henshall who becomes minder to Roscoe Crabbe, a small-time East End gangster. However, matters are further complicated as it emerges that Roscoe is really his sister Rachel posing as her own dead brother, who’s been killed by her boyfriend Stanley Stubbers. But Francis then spots another way to make more money for food – taking a second job with Stanley Stubbers who is on the run from the police and waiting to be reunited with Rachel. But Francis needs to keep his two guvnors apart to avoid discovery.
Directed by Nicholas Hytner, this lively and fast-paced production has a great energy about it from start to finish – leading to some extremely memorable moments such as when Francis has to serve lunch to both his employers. This wonderful sequence gets more and more carried away the longer it goes on that brilliantly heightens the sense of anticipation of when it is all going to fall apart. Every situation may be exaggerated for comical effect but yet somehow it works.
While moments such as when initially the characters talk to the audience as an aside as well as using the audience in a variety of ways can prove distracting, there is no denying that this is a slick production with some wonderful performances.
At the centre of it all, James Corden’s Francis is a sincere if bumbling character who spends a lot of his time thinking about how hungry he is. It feels like a genuinely natural performance of a character who can’t seem to get anything right no matter what he does. His comic timing is perfect – with the scene in which he battles with himself proving to be a real highlight.
But he is surrounded by a wonderful supporting cast including Oliver Chris’s pompous but hilarious Stanley Stubbers, Daniel Rigby’s flamboyant wannabe actor Alan, Jemima Rooper’s confident swagger as Rachel and Tom Edden’s wonderfully funny portrayal as Alfie an elderly waiter who struggles a lot with his job to brilliant effect.
Yes, everything about this play and production is over the top but when it is this much fun it really doesn’t matter. A real treat to see this production again.
By Emma Clarendon