'One Man, Two Guvnors' review or 'The National lets its hair down.'

'One Man, Two Guvnors', Richard Bean
National Theatre, Tuesday 24th May 2011
Written for The Ham & High

James Corden in Bean's 'One Man, Two Guvnors'. Photo Credit: Johan Persson
'One Man, Two Guvnors' is based on an 18th Century, Venetian comedy ('The Servant of Two Masters') but it is actually a peculiarly British show. Bean might've stuck closely to Goldoni's sprawling plot but the bawdy wit and rowdy slapstick could've been lifted straight from a 'Carry On' film. 

The instrumental interludes take us back to the Music Hall tradition, the physical gags have a whiff of panto and some of the monologues could be stand alone, stand-up gigs. Slap bang in the centre of this tasty, British creation is James Corden, whose star can only rise following such a charismatic and committed performance.

Corden plays the 'servant' to two masters. One of them is a woman in drag. The other one killed the first one's brother. It all gets very, very silly indeed. Yet this is the joy of Nicholas Hytner's gleeful production: the plot can go hang, it's the comedy that matters.

Bean furnishes Corden with a litany of sparkling one liners but also allows him to interact with the audience. This is where Corden excels, ad libbing with practised ease and drawing the audience close.

Hytner strikes the perfect balance between slick comedy and potential chaos and nails the infamous central banquet scene. Corden screeches across the stage, skidding on food and nearly sending the decrepit butler to his (late) grave. It's a bit like watching Faulty Towers on fast forward with the sound at full blast.

Corden, despite his 'big bones', does not overshadow a uniformly excellent ensemble. Daniel Rigby is achingly absurd as delusional actor Alan, whose name is as limp as his wit. But it is Oliver Chris, as preening toff Stanley Tubbers, who outshines the lot. He masters the dead pan delivery despite having the silliest lines of all: 'I'm just happy if no one pisses on me.' 

Oliver Chris. Stupidly good. Again.


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