One Man, Two Guvnors

02/04/20

National Theatre Live

Recordings of live theatre are the closest we can get to the real thing right now. It’s not the same, of course, especially not as an iMac is the largest screen we have. But it’s a whole lot better than nothing and, like thousands of others, we’re sitting on our sofa at 7pm tonight, ready to take advantage of the first of the National Theatre’s free YouTube screenings, a welcome Corona-distraction if ever there was one.

It’s One Man, Two Guvnors this evening, which we saw at The Lowry back in 2011 and thoroughly enjoyed. And it’s long enough ago for us to relish the chance to see it again, to retain an element of surprise at the humour, to have forgotten the punchlines to the jokes.

James Corden is magnificent in the lead role (the ‘one man’ of the title, Francis Henshall); it’s easy to see why his performance was so lauded, earning him a coveted Tony award. He’s brimming with talent, and I’ll never understand why he’s anathema to so many people. I defy them to watch this and remain unimpressed.

Based on Goldoni’s eighteenth century play, The Servant of Two Masters, Richard Bean’s farcical script transposes the action to 1960s Brighton, where Henshall finds himself doubly employed, acting as ‘minder’ not only to Stanley Stubbers (Oliver Chris), but also to Roscoe Crabbe (Jemima Rooper) – a situation made more complex by the fact that Stubbers is in hiding after murdering one… ahem… Roscoe Crabbe. Hapless Henshall tries to juggle the two jobs and fails at every turn. It’s ridiculous, nonsensical stuff – and I love every minute.

Nicholas Hytner’s direction is spot on, and the skiffle band covering the scene transitions is a lovely idea that pays real dividends. But it’s Cal McCrystal’s choreography of the physical comedy that really stands out, a dynamic blend of clowning and drama that ensures there’s never a dull moment. The storyline is pretty slight, but holds up for three hours because of the vitality of the performances.

One Man, Two Guvnors is available on the National Theatre’s YouTube channel until next Thursday, the 9th April, when Jane Eyre will take its place.

Don’t miss the chance to see it. After all, what else have you got to do?

5 stars

Susan Singfield

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