Slapstick comes to the National Theatre: One Man, Two Guvnors
It would be very easy to get snobby about Richard Bean's new play at the National Theatre - I've had to catch myself a couple of times mid nose-wrinkle. It's all a bit Carry On style you see, not the usual sort of thing you expect to see on the South Bank.
But, as the programme so happily points out, such comedy is much broader than we snooty culture freaks give it credit for and its roots are centuries old.
One Man, Two Guvnors is based on an 18th Century Italian play called The Servant and Two Masters but updated to the criminal underworld of 1960's Brighton. It has all the elements of classic Shakespearean comedy from plain old slapstick and physical comedy to twins, mistaken identity and farcical gender swapping.
It's central premise is, as the name suggests, about a man who has two bosses. Francis Henshall (James Corden) ends up with two jobs and much of the play centres around him trying to serve both masters without the other finding out. There is a bit more to it than that but this isn't a play you go and see for the improbable storyline. It is a play to go an see if you just want to settle back (as much as you can in the tortuously uncomfortable Lyttleton seats) and be entertained.
And it is entertaining. It is irritating too, at times, but it is certainly entertaining. There are musical interludes, during scene changes, primarily supplied by the resident skiffle band but with some surprise appearances and there is a bit of dancing and a bit of singing. There is also pie in the face, hiding under tables, hair on fire, characters getting hit with dustin lids and opening doors and even a Benny Hill-esque chase. Oh and the fourth wall is well and truly broken.
The actors are also on fine form. Corden demonstrates his natural comedy skills as does the lovely, lovely Oliver Chris who I'd like to add to my tea and cake list but he makes me giggle a little too much.
One Man, Two Guvnors' timing is curious, opening the same week that the Ambassadors Theatre Group is putting on a pantomime-esque version of Much Ado About Nothing in the West End. The two productions aren't that different in essence and it will interesting to see what the critics make of both. One Man won't be for everyone and I imagine there will be one or two who will also baulk at Much Ado.
Like Much Ado, I'm giving One Man four stars. It runs in rep at the Lyttleton until July 26.
Since writing I've checked out other reviews from two of my favourite theatre bloggers and as suspected it is dividing opinion. The West End Whingers loved it while it wasn't to Ought to be Clowns taste.
This is a repeat connection, Oliver Chris, who I last saw in Season's Greetings. He was in Nathan Barley with Mr W. I'm seeking another one just so it doesn't feel like a cheat.