Review: One Man, Two Guvnors

Falling for Corden


This is not the first time that Richard Bean has got his hands on a classic and improved it. With his amendments for Nicholas Hytner's production of Dion Boucicault's London Assurance, he took the Victorian comedy's big antisemitic joke and made it a joke about antisemitic Victorians. He has rewritten, re-rewritten or adapted works from Molière to Mamet but this time, so complete is the overhaul that he gets the main writing credit above that of Carlo Goldoni whose 18th-century, Venetian-set The Servant of Two Masters forms the basis for Bean's 1950s Brighton romp.

Instead of the central figure Truffaldino, Bean's permanently hungry opportunist is Francis Henshall, the first National Theatre role for comedy actor James Corden since he appeared as one of Alan Bennett's History Boys.

The Gavin and Stacey star has come a long way since then. But anyone who suspected that he had more reputation than talent, will be proved as wrong by Hytner's production as I was. It is Corden's comic timing that does it. Dressed in tight-fitting tweed he brilliantly panics his way through a series of set-pieces in which he plays a former skiffle player who gets jobs serving two demanding bosses. One is a woman disguised as her murdered gangster twin brother, the other is the toff who killed him.

There are, as always with Bean, verbal gags galore, many of which see Corden commune with the audience as his Henshall attempts to garner their help in pulling the wool over his bosses' eyes. Into this mayhem Hytner inserts some of the funniest slapstick I have ever seen. Some might balk at the scenes where a deaf, octogenarian waiter with a pacemaker is sent flying down stairs and is thumped by a cricket bat. But funny is funny and the brilliant Tom Edden upstages even Corden with a character that looks like an elderly stroke victim who has been hit by lightning. You gotta laugh. And you will.

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