Review – One Man, Two Guvnors, National Theatre

Thursday 19 May 2011

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.

Rating score 5-5 our cups overfloweth

16 Responses to “Review – One Man, Two Guvnors, National Theatre”

  1. […] performance that took place on Wednesday, May 18th, 2011. For a more enthusiastic review, see the Weste End Whingers; a contrary review should be appearing soon from farce-hating Ought to be Clowns – my date […]

  2. webcowgirl Says:

    I think I should go back to see this and drink more, plus sit next to someone who’s enjoying it just a bit.

  3. It was a great night, more that made up for the drivel we went to the week before.

    I am planning my 2nd viewing right now!

  4. Ali67 Says:

    It was fabulous. Great performances.. Corden is bearable which is a miracle.. And the design is wonderfully old fashioned.. In the best possible sense. A breath of fresh air from all those big stuffy NT 3 hour plays that sap ones soul and energy. I predict a big hit for the NT with this one.

  5. Susan Says:

    I saw One Man Two Guvnors last night, and i have to say i have never laughed so much in a theatre in all my life. What i find truly odd is any form of negativity towards James Corden. For his comic relief sketches alone he should be exalted. He is, i’m sure the reason this production is selling out before any reviews are posted and maybe that’s why some people dislike him. He is astonishingly good in this play. Every moment he is on stage it was electric last night. Everyone should go and see it! Cherry Orchard for me next, i’m sure it will have just as many laughs!!!

    • Queenie Says:

      It’s because in person he usually behaves like an arrogant arse.

      But all credit to him, he’s very funny, charming and likeable in this, which just goes to show what a good actor he is.

  6. missfrankiecat Says:

    I saw it last night too (Sat 21st) and after a slow start found it the most fun I’ve had in years. Very very silly fun. I was indifferent to Corden before, but he is very skilled in this, supported by a generous and first rate cast, great band and fantastic set. What’s not to like?

  7. Boz Says:

    Bugger. Did I use my advance memebership to bag tickets for this? Did I bogroll. Bum bum bum.

  8. Boz Says:

    Membership, even. Yeah. That too.

  9. Boz Says:

    I now have tickets. Everyone can stand down.

  10. Boz Says:

    And – BUGGERILLO! – it was a jolly riot. Ace stuff. Adding Tom Edden to the list of people to be adored. I’ve never seen anyone act so much with their lower jaw.

  11. One of the funniest performances I have ever seen. I hadn’t read up on the play and expected to be mildly bored as usual but was totally amazed at the wit and inventiveness of the interpretation although it fell off a bit at the end when ends had to be laborioulsly tied.
    The ancient waiter was brilliant …we saw this trim young man after the show and just managed to recognise him and congratulate him on a remarkable performance. Had tears running down my cheeks. They were all excellent. And the timing miraculous. What a joy!

  12. Steve Says:

    I absolutely loathed it. Left at interval.

  13. ZED1 Says:

    Can you tell me if the girl from the audience that gets covered in foam is actually a cast member?

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