In which James Corden appears to redeem himself with aplomb and the Whingers laugh at a Richard Bean comedy – and quite a lot.
Due to an administrative error the Whingers had a couple of spare tickets for Tuesday night’s first preview of One Man, Two Guvnors at the National Theatre – Richard Bean’s rewriting of Carlo Goldoni’s 1743 quasi -commedia dell’arte Arlecchino servitore di due padroni (as we like to call it) aka The Servant of Two Masters.
An appeal on Facebook to all 11 of the Whingers’ friends produced a flurry of messages citing the usual implausibly high incidences of hair-washing and sick dogs. But in between those messsages were a high number of declined invitations seemingly based an antipathy to James Corden.
It seems that some time since his History Boys/Gavin & Stacey days and yesterday, Mister Corden (channelling Harry Worth on the poster) seems to have rubbed some people up the wrong way.
But here, once more directed (or reined in) by Mister Nicholas Hytner, Mister Corden turns in a hardworking, confident – yet not cocky – and rather likeable performance.
It’s hard to describe exactly what OM,TG is. Bean has transplanted the story to the Brighton underworld in 1963, four years into the construction of the Sydney Opera House (it makes sense when you see it). It takes a while to grind up into its stride, but once it does, it is very funny. There is a great deal of physical and visual comedy, very little fourth wall, some audience participation, a skiffle band (The Craze – geddit?) and some quite exceptional performances including Daniel Rigby as pretentious aspiring actor Alan Dangle, Oliver Chris as ex-public school toff Stanley Stubbers and Tom Edden as an 87 year old waiter.
Henshall (Corden) is working for two gangsters who are in love with each other. One is a woman, Rachel (Jemima Rooper) disguised as her twin brother. Henshall understandably has to keep them apart in the interests of receiving two pay cheques. But their paths, of course, are intertwined and things get complicated. But you needn’t trouble yourself with the machinations of the plot, it takes a very back seat to the business of providing entertainment.
Designed by Mark Thompson with commedia dell’arte/panto painted backcloths and flats. Phil who lived in Brighton for many years, located most of the action in Kemp Town. It may have been because he was seated next to Andrew, but Phil was sure he copped a whiff of salty decay.
Part farce, part panto, part vaudeville it’s the funniest play in London and Corden’s would probably be the funniest performance if he didn’t have to share the stage and accolade with Oliver Chris. Bean puts words together in a sometimes brilliant (and frankly he’s a writer with whom we’ve not had much luck in the past) and often surreal manner but if you don’t think “First names are for girls and Norwegians” is funny on the page wait till you hear Chris deliver it. For some strange reason Andrew and Phil found it very amusing.
Corden, Rigby and Chris each get to take part in some very brilliant musical interludes which we won’t explain here for the risk of spoiling the surprise.
Corden addresses the audience frequently. When asking (probably rhetorically) where he should take Dolly (WEW favourite Suzie Toase) on a first date one bright spark in the Whingers’ entourage shouted “Somewhere with tablecloths”.
Repeating the line to a huge laugh, Corden thought for a moment before retorting, “Hang around after the show and we’ll use your shirt” which – if you look at the photo of it taken at the Whingers post-show drinkies (with added props) – illustrates why those who could see it applauded his quick response. Respect due (for the quip, not the shirt).
This has all the makings of a massive hit. It is already selling out fast and tours after its run here. The Lyttelton should reconfigure with central aisles immediately as the audiences will need somewhere in which to roll.
Phil thinks Hytner should get together with Corden in a few years time and consider doing Gogol’s The Government Inspector.
If Corden and Chris are available a transfer must surely be on the cards. But it won’t suit everyone; people without a taste for broad and gloriously daft comedy needn’t apply. The woman in front of the Whingers fell into that category but then, for reasons known only to her, she had come dressed as Joan Littlewood, so she must have a sense for the absurd after all.
It’s not perfect but by golly the funniest parts are very funny indeed. But of course, this was a first preview so it’s really not fair to judge.