BWW Review: ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS, National Theatre At Home
Wouldn't it be ironic that the time that the whole of the UK (and indeed the world) really fell in love with theatre was when no-one could actually go there? Millions of people who already love the performing arts are desperately missing their fixes. But now this virus is the great equaliser; everyone is at home, yet still want and need to be entertained.
Bravo then to the National Theatre, which is broadcasting a new play live every Thursday at 7pm, then available for a week on their YouTube channel. The National was already creating a theatrical democracy through their NT Live initiative, which has broadcast amazing productions from their stages to thousands of cinemas across the globe since 2009. Last night, that initiative was truly a broadcast to the masses.
The NT picked an absolute belter for their first broadcast with One Man, Two Guvnors. It's exactly what we all need right now: absolutely absurd, totally silly and completely hilarious.
Back in 2011, an actor called James Corden, previously seen on television in series such as Fat Friends and Gavin and Stacey, became a national sensation through his brilliant performance in Richard Bean's utterly riotous adaptation.
Based on Carlo Goldoni's 1746 comedy The Servant of Two Masters, the madcap plot is set is Brighton in 1963 and follows Francis Henshall, a failed skiffle player, as he finds himself with two bosses. One, Rachel Crabbe, disguised as her late gangster twin brother, and the other, snobby Stanley Stubbers, who actually killed Rachel's brother and is also her lover. Are you keeping up? Neither boss is aware of the other and Henshall catapults himself chaotically between the pair.
The production was touted as one of the National's funniest plays and it is easy to see why: the combination of verbal and physical humour is infectiously silly. It feels like a uniquely British combination of the Carry On films, pantomime and farce.
James Corden won a Tony Award for this performance and is suitably wonderful as the constantly hungry Francis - using a combination of the warm wit and confidence we are all now so familiar with, with a brilliant physical performance. He chats with the audience as though they are old friends and maintains high-octane energy throughout.
In the play's funniest scene, Francis serves his bosses dinner simultaneously, while eating most of the food himself. He is aided by Tom Edden as an elderly waiter in the most hysterical manner. The whole production is genuinely hilarious and is aided by the excellent close-up camera work, so the audience at home don't miss a detail.
The rest of the cast is similarly strong. Daniel Rigby is brilliantly over-the-top as Alan the aspiring actor and Jemima Rooper is captivating as Rachel Crabbe, embracing the absurdity of her situation (and wig). Oliver Chris makes a superbly snobby Stanley Stubbers, with some of the funniest lines in the show.
There is more than an element of music hall here; a wonderfully engaging skiffle band called 'The Craze' entertain throughout, with the cast taking turns to sing and play a variety of musical instruments and even parts of their own bodies.
The cast as a whole is obviously having an amazing time, but Nicholas Hytner's tight direction keeps everything just the right side of order. Farce is notoriously hard to pull off, but Hytner and the whole cast make the production look completely natural and easy.
The one small criticism of the show is that the first half is so wonderful that the second half feels a little less thrilling. However, this show is the ideal tonic to the current situation; silly, ridiculous and utterly hilarious. Escapism at its very best.
Photo Credit: National Theatre