A few nights ago I attended the premiere of ‘One Man, Two Guvnors’ at the National’s Lyttelton Theatre. This new English play, written by Richard Bean, is based on the Italian comedy, ‘The Servant of Two Masters’ by Carlo Goldoni.
The action takes place in Brighton, where an odd mix of characters come together after the murder of Roscoe Crabbe. Dodgy dealer Charlie “the duck” Clench had organised for his dippy daughter Pauline to marry Roscoe, but is now adjusting the engagement party for his daughter’s true love, melodramatic actor Alan Dangle. Meanwhile Francis Henshall, minder to Roscoe, believes his employer is still alive, which is apparently confirmed when Roscoe’s twin sister Rachel enters disguised as her dead brother. She is posing to claim the money her family are owed from Charlie, and also to protect her lover Stanley Stubbers, her brother’s killer. If all that isn’t confusing enough, Henshall has committed to working for both Rachel (in disguise as Roscoe) and undercover murderer Stanley, but neither must know of his dual alliance.
Hushed murmurs of excitement were audible as James Corden swaggered on stage as the food obsessed Francis Henshall, his larger than life personality immediately fills the auditorium. His performance is an impressive tour de force, Corden throws himself about the stage and isn’t shy of full on audience participation, though at times I felt he tried a little too hard and occasionally his rants came across as slapstick. Strong support is given from Jemima Rooper as convincingly disguised Rachel Crabbe, and Oliver Chris as the absolutely ridiculously funny posh lover Stanley Stubbers. The audience seemed to delight in watching Tom Edden playing the poor old man Alfie, who can barely talk or walk.
Brilliant direction from Nicholas Hytner is to be expected, but I was pleasantly surprised by the frequently changing retro set designed by Mark Thompson. Music plays a big part in this production, and this is provided by extremely talented crew of four, The Craze. Fresh new songs written by band member Grant Olding inject the evening with energy and fun, and provide a welcome distraction while the scene changes are made. The Craze aren’t afraid to experiment, playing a wide range of instruments including washboard, spoons, harmonica, ukulele, and even an accordion. Every actor gets a turn to play /sing in a number with the band, these musical interludes are well designed with the words, style and instrumentation all matching the performer’s character in the play… particularly humorous when Alan uses his bare chest as a percussive device.
Despite the tendency towards pantomime, ‘One Man, Two Guvnors’ really made me laugh and certainly entertained me a darn sight more than the National’s slow paced production of The Cherry Orchard.
Continues until July 26th, book here.