For the first five minutes, watching a stage play on a screen in a theatre is weird. But after that we forget and we immerse – bar the odd zoom in and theatrical bits of acting. It’s a long one at three hours and ten minutes (including a 15-minute interval) and to begin with, doesn’t seem to be a piece that can carry that duration. The opening scene is a dull bit of exposition, slightly over-egged by a few of the cast who seem to be better suited for the distance of stage than screen.
One Man, Two Guvnors by Richard Bean is an adaptation of the Italian Commedia dell’arte play: Ill Servitore di due Padroni. It’s full of satire, farce and physical humour, well written and on point. Nicholas Hytner directed this version, staged in 2011 at the National Theatre, and now gracing screens around the UK.
James Corden, star of Gavin and Stacey and host of The Late Show (among other accolades) is the big draw as the hapless and hungry Francis Henshall. Corden began his career in the theatre and here proves himself to be a remarkable and brilliant actor, able to achieve the difficult feat of simultaneously translating a character to stage and screen.
Corden nails the knack of presenting a big character, yet maintaining the subtlety required for cinema. It’s quite a masterclass and emulates the kind of acting brilliance found in the likes of Olivier, Cleese or Mckellern. It proves that no matter how comical and physical a characterisation gets, it needs to be utterly real to wow a crowd. Some others in the cast come across as less believable in close up.
To say that One Man, Two Guvnors is hilarious would be an understatement. Tears rolled down my cheeks during a scene chiefly involving Corden and Tom Edden, the latter playing an aged, deaf and decrepit waiter, as the two attempt to serve up lunch to Henshall’s employers. Edden is so good in his clowning, he threatens to steal the show at times.
Nick Hytner demonstrates his brilliance in this section also, with some inspired and original touches that make this play, a definite talking point among those who’ve seen it (the details of which I won’t disclose for spoiler reasons). Oliver Chris as the ex-boarding school upper-class twit is another notably strong and very funny cast member. The rest, while perfectly ok by National Theatre standards, do little to impress. But then there can only be so many shining lights in one show – and this production has plenty. One Man, Two Guvnors provides oodles of feelgood fun and showcases some serious talent.