It would be difficult to do a contemporary play about a jobless man who ends up serving two masters, one an idle aristocrat, the other a gangster who turns out to be his own sister in disguise. In fact it would be impossible – without setting it in India or something like the Goodness Gracious Me crew did with the old ‘I look up to him, I look down on him’ sketch. So the National Theatre did the next best thing; they set One Man, Two Guv’nors in the 1960’s. The period was excellently done, with skiffle music between scenes, but what lifted this from a fairly run-of-the-mill knockabout comedy to an absolute riot was James Corden.
I’ve never seen James Corden in anything before and I had him down as someone not particularly funny, I’m not sure why. But in this he is pure genius, running around trying to keep each of his masters from finding out about the other whilst the sub-plot of star-crossed lovers and mistaken identities goes on behind him. There’s a lot of physical comedy here, people being slapped about (Corden slaps himself at one point) and a waiter who looks like Marty Feldman and acts like Manuel falls down the stairs any number of times – in fact he only climbs them in order to be knocked down again, apart from one moment when in an hommage to Victoria Wood’s Two Soups sketch, he tries to carry a couple of bowls across the stage and of course fails. There are swodges of pantomime, oodles of audience participation including one woman who seemed so shy and awkward and who was bullied so much that in the end we concluded (correctly) that she must be a member of the cast, there’s a bit of Shakespeare (Comedy of Errors) and Oscar Wilde as well as the Commedia dell’arte – in fact I lost count of the number of traditions that come together in this. I could have done without quite so much of the music as it was good but not brilliant, but James Corden was a revelation.
It’s still on youtube so go watch. Next week they’re doing something else, I forget what – and in a couple of weeks it’ll be the A-Ma-Zing Twelfth Night production with Tamsin Greig as Malvolia about which I blogged a few years back. Best Shakespeare ever. So head over to youtube and get some tonight. Here’s the link:
We interrupted the play to go outside and clap for – well, basically everyone who’s still working but specifically NHS staff and care workers. Loads of people out, whooping and cheering and waving at each other. Terrific stuff.