What is there left to say about One Man, Two Guvnors, the most highly decorated, publically celebrated and critically lauded comedy of the last ten years? Richard Bean’s modern adaptation of Carlo Goldoni’s eighteenth-century play, The Servant of Two Masters, has received five-star reviews across the board, a Tony Award for originator James Corden and has brought a new sense of commercial vitality to the British theatre scene at home and abroad.
Now onto its second UK tour, what has arguably become one of the most popular plays of the last five years is showing no signs of slowing. A fantastically funny mixture of farce and the Commedia dell’Arte, the play follows a hapless and helpless henchman as he juggles working for both a sharp-suited London gangster and a jolly good, frightfully nice, thoroughly smashing public school bloke. Stylistically, the play flits between genres, defying classification, at times a playful comedy of errors, at times a musical and at times a straight play.
This textured piece is strengthened by a wonderfully talented and wonderfully witty cast. TV comedian Rufus Hound is fantastically cast as harlequin Francis Henshall, forcefully tearing down the fourth wall and grabbing his audience by their smiling faces. The immense physicality of his performance is tempered by a clean and clever delivery of Bean’s script, proving his worth as an actor and a stand-up. Edward Bennet, too, has the aristocratic comic sleaze of Tim Curry’s Frank N. Furter as posh boss Stanley Stubbers, whilst Amy Booth-Steel charismatically channels the post-liberation spirit of Marie Lloyd.
It is a rare thing that a piece of theatre can become so enrapturing and so special that it forces audience members to visibly lunge forward in their chairs and dab the tears from their eyes. This is theatre for every type of guvnor, defying class, blending high and low culture, and the physical with the metaphysical.