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One Man, Two Guvnors

Kings Theatre, Edinburgh
5 stars
James Corden isn’t an obvious matinee idol. Such is his wide-eyed
control over the audience in Nicholas Hytner’s National Theatre
production of Richard Bean’s audacious reinvention of Goldoni’s The
Servant of Two Masters, however, that it’s impossible not to warm to
his barn-stormingly full-on performance.

Corden’s TV-friendly features help, of course, in what, in Bean, Hytner
and especially physical comedy director Cal McCrystal’s hands is
transformed into a riotous end-of- the-pier seaside postcard sit-com.
Bean sets things in Brighton during 1963, that crucial year, as poet
Philip Larkin put it, when sexual intercourse began ‘between the end of
the Chatterley ban and The Beatles first LP’.

It was also the year the skiffle boom was stamped on by rock and roll,
as Corden’s estuarised harlequin Francis Henshall finds to his cost
when he and his washboard are chucked out of his band. Out of such
adversity, Francis blags his way into the pay of both Jemima Rooper’s
psychopathic gangster who’s actually the Kray-like kingpin’s twin
sister, and Oliver Chris’ toff who apparently killed him. With a
barrow-load of dodgy geezers, would-be stage stars, nice-but-dim
daughters and pneumatic proto-feminists in tow, Francis double-bluffs
his way into one mess after another in a breathless virtuoso ensemble
display.

Beyond such fine-tuned hilarity, there’s also some subtle social
comment going on about the state of post-World War Two British culture
as it moved out of 1950s austerity and started to swing. There’s a
sense of soon to be thwarted feel-good optimism at play here too that
sits oddly in tune with just now. Such a sly and vividly knowing
approach makes this an unmissable comic experience on every level.

The Herald, October 27th 2011

ends

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