Tuesday, 24 May 2011

One Man, Two Guvnors.

To the National Theatre with Eleanor to see Richard Bean's One Man, Two Guvnors - a reworking of Goldini's Master of Two Servants. It's a riot. The original 18th century Venetian romp is brilliantly relocated to early sixties Brighton where Frances Henshall, joyously played by James Cordon, manages to blag himself into two jobs simultaneously. One of his new bosses, Rachel, is an East End moll, in disguise as her dead gangland brother and the other is the man responsible for Rachel's brother's murder, her lover Stubbers, an upper class twit with a fine line in the gratuity of public school violence. Both are hiding in Brighton, unaware of each other's presence.

Once again director Nick Hytner proves his populist credentials drawing not just on the stock scenes of commedia del arte, but also on the anarchic British post-war tradition of variety entertainment. It's a ludic delight. A world somewhere between The Goons and That Was the Week That Was. Between skiffle and swing. It's a masterstroke.

Cordon is simply brilliant as the harlequinesque Henshall. His ravenous appetite drives the hysterical first half; his libido the second. It's these base needs that unite us all. There's more than genial charm however, this is an actor who instinctively understands his audience, and frequently bringing them into conversation and occasionally action. A private communion that enables us all to recognise the ridiculous nature of the theatrical set up and casts us in the role of sympathetic complicity.

There is wonderful support. Chris Oliver is superb as Stubbers. Tim Eddon, as an 86 year old waiter on his first day, totters about to great effect and Daniel Rigby as Alan Dangle, an angry young actor, in love with love, dressed in black polo neck sweater, flops his hair and strikes ridiculous pose after ridiculous pose. It was a truly great night at the theatre. A peculiarly British celebration of humour. The National have a surefire hit on their hands.


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