Digital theatre review: One Man, Two Guvnors
Ivan Radford | On 02, Apr 2020
For more information on National Theatre at Home, including other plays being released online for free, click here.
Years before The Play That Goes Wrong – and years after Noises Off – the National Theatre made a splash with a new comedy called One Man, Two Guvnors. It starred hot rising star James Corden, fresh off BAFTA success with BBC Three’s Gavin & Stacey, a Doctor Who guest appearance, a World Cup single and his own panel show hosting gig. He’d just debuted a Carpool Karaoke sketch on 2011 Comic Relief, which (following his Tony Award win for his play) would later propel him to stardom and a regular weeknight job presenting The Late Late Show with James Corden.
It is, then, something of a turning point for Lesbian Vampire Killers star Corden, a play that sees him return to the stage where he impressed in Nicholas Hytner’s The History Boys while showcasing his natural musical and comic talents that have become the bedrock for his now ubiquitous presence on our screens. And to see him in action in the show (whether on the NT’s Lyttleton stage or the West End’s Adelphi Theatre) is to see a star blazing at full blast.
He’s outrageously over-the-top, incredibly charismatic, endearingly sincere and knows all of those things very well – it’s a masterclass in prat-falling while taking the audience with you, which, once you’ve seen the show, emerges as the key to pulling the whole thing off.
Richard Bean’s script knows it’s not about the plot (taken from Italian comedy The Servant of Two Masters) and smartly spends a short time balancing everything before stepping back to watch it all tumble. We’re introduced to Franchise Henshall (Corden), a failed musician who works for gangster Roscoe Crabbe and – keen to have his cake and eat it (literally) – bags a second job on the side working for snooty simpleton Stanley Stubbers.
What ensues is an increasingly chaotic attempt to stop either employee know they’re being two-timed, and Bean and Corden execute the escalating silliness at just the right pace; one minute, we’re watching the every-hungry Francis try to eat a letter to sate his appetite, the next, he’s serving both men dinners in a hilariously frenetic set piece that’s flawlessly performed.
Hytner directs the whole thing with a deceptively precise hand – helped by associate director Cal McCrystal, who oversees the slapstick choreography – and even manages to find the time to interrupt events with musical interludes (featuring a skiffle band led by Grant Olding) without disrupting the mood. That’s mainly because the mood does feel constantly disrupted, and what the production manages to do so well – thanks to a sterling supporting cast that bring the house down – is create a feeling of genuine spontaneity at all times. The result achieves that rare electricity the best comedy can manage: you’ll sit, agog, wondering what on Earth could happen next. If you missed it during its sellout stage run, that magic will play just as well in the living room. If you caught it the first time round, you’ll still belly-laugh your way through anyway.
One Man, Two Guvnors is available on YouTube from 7pm BST on Thursday 2nd April 2020 It will be available to stream until 9th April 2020.