Monday, 23 May 2011

One Man Two Guvnors - National Theatre, Wednesday 18th May 2011

Fired from his skiffle band, Francis Henshall becomes minder to Roscoe Crabbe, a small time East End hood, now in Brighton to collect £6,000 from his fiancee’s dad. But Roscoe is really his sister Rachel posing as her own dead brother, who’s been killed by her boyfriend Stanley Stubbers.

Holed up at The Cricketers’ Arms, the permanently ravenous Francis spots the chance of an extra meal ticket and takes a second job with one Stanley Stubbers, who is hiding from the police and waiting to be re-united with Rachel. To prevent discovery, Francis must keep his two guvnors apart. Simple.

Gareth David - Benson
Stanley Stubbers - Oliver Chris
Francis Henshall- James Corden
Alfie- Tom Edden
Doctor- Martyn Ellis
Lloyd Boateng- Trevor Laird
Pauline Clench- Claire Lams
Charlie Clench- Fred Ridgeway
Alan - Daniel Rigby
Rachel Crabbe- Jemima Rooper
Dolly -Suzie Toase

Creative Team:
based on The Servant of Two Masters by Carlo Goldoni
Director - Nicholas Hytner
Associate Director - Cal McCrystal
Designer- Mark Thompson
Lighting Designer - Mark Henderson
Music - Grant Olding
Sound Designer - Paul Arditti
Fight Director- Kate Waters

Anyone who cares to drop by on a semi-regular basis will know that I don’t “do” opera and I certainly don’t “do” farce. I certainly don’t “do” farce when a) I’m feeling horrendously poorly, b) when its hot and clammy and windy and smearing with rain outside and c) the “star” is some over-rated fat bloke from a TV “comedy” that I don’t find remotely funny. So, Dear Readers, if you are a fan of farce or James Corden or farces with James Corden in I suggest you leave by that door over there (points) and come back next week when I’ll be reviewing a proper play by Terence Rattigan.

This play is a rewrite of a 17th century Commedia dell’arte play called A Servant for Two Masters and I therefore can’t really see how Richard Bean can be credited with being the “writer”; all he has had to do is update it and change the names, keeping the original plot and characters. I could just as easily do a complete re-write of Pride and Prejudice and update it to 1980s Croydon to give it that retro feel – “Everyone knows that a single geezer with a big wad of cash is looking for a shag” – and call myself “the writer”. The characters of Prada and Pre-Juice, having already been created and fleshed out for me by Ms. Austen, I simply need to turn into Liz Bennett and Fizz Willy Darcy and commissions to stage it at the National will come rolling in. So One Man Two Guvnors isn’t a new play in any sense of the word; merely a very old play with a veneer of modernity slapped onto it and pasted over with a Pritt Stick. It was, however, clever to have set the rewrite in Brighton – so many of these late 17th and early 18th century “comedies” seem to be set there that I’m constantly surprised the streets weren’t full of little men in silly wigs carrying quill pens and notebooks scribbling away about artful maidservants, caddish rou├ęs and cuckolded husbands. Not that your average member of the audience at this performance would have known that – such is the apparent pull of Mr. Corden to those deprived of their weekly helping of Gavin and Stacey that the place was packed out. It got less packed out during the course of the first half – I counted 8 people leaving before the interval – and it was considerably less packed after the interval bell went. Presumably people couldn’t stand the braying or “whoooooo”ing which occurred every time Mr. Corden came on. The girl sitting in the seat behind me not only had her feet up on the back of my seat but felt compelled to shout out advice to the characters at every opportunity (poor girl obviously didn’t realise that she wasn’t at home watching TV) but practically had an orgasm when Mr. Corden gave us those immortal lines “What’s occurring?” – which I gather is a catchphrase in his vastly overrated “comedy series” – together with his trademark “mug” to the audience. I found his performance completely one-note and without any particular subtlety; his complete lack of stage technique meant that even the standard lamp gave a more measured performance. Part of this is admittedly the fault of the play – I found the dining room scene more than reminiscent of the worst excesses of Fawlty Towers or the wallpapering scene in many a panto (that cost me a lot – I am a big fan of both FT and panto, although I will draw the line at Brian Blessed playing Captain Hook, Abanazer or, indeed, anything else).

Overall, I thought the comedy elements, both visual and verbal, were badly over-egged. It was too broad, too much and too often – once is funny, twice is mildly amusing, thrice is dull and four times is just tedious. I could have done with a lot less of Corden’s incessant mugging, and certainly something other than his “Little Fat Man of the People” schtick over and over and over again. Can the man not play any character other than James Corden?

There were a couple of stand-out performances. Oliver Chris was excellent (I’ve seen his Bottom, you know), as was recent BAFTA recipient Daniel Rigby as the posturing actor Alan, all black leather jacket and “method acting”. Suzie Toaze was very good in a small, somewhat thankless role and her speech foretelling a female occupant of 10 Downing Street gave me practically the only laugh of the entire evening. Loved the scenery, which was very evocative of shabby-genteel Brighton (although not as much as the two women to my right who cooed “Innit Luvley?”) all the way through the pier scene. I also enjoyed the performance by the on-stage band, although wished they hadn’t been lumbered with the name “The Craze” (geddit??) which is about as subtle as a knuckleduster in the ribs.

Anyway, if you do decide to go and see this, don’t be fooled into thinking Mr. Corden can play the xylophone because he’s actually miming. The rest of the cast, with one other notable exception are actually playing instruments or demonstrating their singing talents. Mug up on the plot before you go because, once again, there is no synopsis in the programme. Take earplugs in case you are sitting anywhere in the vicinity of a gaggle of late teenage girls who like Gavin and Stacey and who have come to get their fix. Don’t ask yourself why a 1960’s front parlour has a portrait of the Queen which was painted in 1926 on the wall. Leave at the interval if you can or beforehand if possible.

What the critics thought: This was a preview performance. Pro crits will be posted when they occur.

Mr. Corden gets it from someone who can act and who has a Knighthood to prove it.

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