Archive for July, 2011

 

26/07/11

I am always wary of seeing a show late on in the run – the reviews become unavoidable and I find myself going into the theatre with a preconceived idea about whether I’m going to enjoy this. So it was with trepidation that I booked a later ticket to see One Man Two Guvnors at the Lyttleton.

Written by Carlo Goldoni in 1746, Richard Bean has updated the classic farce and set it in 1960’s Brighton, combining commedia dell’arte with traditional British slapstick humour. Any attempts to describe the storyline of this would be futile, but the general jist is that our harlequin, Francis Henshall, takes on two jobs in a bid to get enough money for a hot meal – One, Rachel Crabbe, is disguised as her dead twin, Roscoe and the other, public school twit Stanley Stubbins, is on the run from the police after killing the aforementioned Roscoe.

That’s about as easy as it gets in terms of plot – the story twists and turns at such breakneck speed that it’s sometimes difficult to keep up – but it all becomes irrelevant when faced with such chaos on stage.

James Corden as Henshall is a delight, and makes the slapstick and physical humour seem easy. There is something about his acting style that makes you immediately warm to him: his charisma is infectious, and within moments of his appearance on stage, we are on his side. There are moments of glorious fun as he attempts to control the chaos around him, while all the time trying to simply get a good meal. Corden’s comic timing is impeccable, and his physicality only adds to his fantastic performance.

 Timing is not his only asset here though, as we see him improvise and banter with the audience at various intervals, perhaps most notably in this performance when he brings up two bearded men from the audience to assist him, and the moment where he asked the audience in desperation “does anyone have a sandwich?” ; if only because the latter threw a spanner in the works when a polite audience member actually offered him a homous sandwich.

Corden is supported by a fantastic cast, all of whom meet the demands of this script with aplomb. Personal favourites were Oliver Chris as Stanley – an arrogant public school twit who has some cracking lines and a dead ringer for Hugh Laurie’s character ‘Percy’ in Blackadder. Daniel Rigby is also gloriously over the top as Alan Dangle, who wants to be an actor and has figured out a way to live his life that is appropriate to that dream.

The classic of commedia dell’arte, the climactic banquet served to different offstage dinner parties while the harlequin snaffles his own grub from their menus is treated about as traditionally as you can imagine, and Hytner has done a spectacular job here – even improving the original version. Alfie the octogenarian waiter is a new character, and is magnificently played by Tom Edden.  Corden rushes back and forth in a whirlwind of food and wine, while Alfie, the alarmingly decrepit butler is put upon in a variety of ways, being slammed into doors, thrown down the stairs, and very nearly killed by a cork.

I realise as I am writing this that it is less of a review and more of a description of the best bits – I don’t think there can be any higher praise than that. I was so full of joy and glee at watching these that any thought of criticism left my mind immediately. Instead, I was sucked into this silly situation and laughed uproariously at every twist and turn.

While the second act does not shine as brightly as the first, as Kenneth Tynan said of the Broadway premiere of Gypsy, the show tails off into mere brilliance. There is more than a whiff of Noises Off here, and I am certain that this show will also have the endurance of Frayn’s 1980’s farce. I’m delighted that this is transferring to the West End, and urge you to see it – there is something here for everyone to enjoy and, despite being based on an Italian style, this show made me feel very proud to be British.

Favourite line
Alan:                “I am your nemesis!”
Roscoe:            “Francis, what’s a nemesis?”
Francis:            “Not sure, guv, definitely foreign, I think it’s a Citroen.”

Running Time – 2hours 50 minutes (if you’re on a time limit – allow a bit more in case of extreme ad-libbing!)

Programmes: £3, Ice cream: £3 – don’t normally have an ice cream but by gum this stuff was lovely! Highly recommend the mango sorbet.

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