Nicholas Hytner’s production of Richard Bean’s Goldoni make-over, and James Corden’s outstanding performance, have transferred intact to the West End, all guns blazing, to ensure the most perfect seasonal entertainment before moving on to Broadway next April.
The playing, and the discipline, remains of a very high standard, even if the laughter quotient dips after the interval, partly because the famous double-dealing dinner scene, complete with Tom Edden’s fantastically hilarious decrepit old falling-down-stairs waiter, is the show’s climax, at the end of the first act; and partly because there’s a plot to sort out in the second.
Edden is funniest in the first act anyway, bouncing off (literally) the walls and the stoical, sneery veneer of David Benson’s head waiter (“It’s his first day!”). The mechanics of farce are beautifully observed throughout: Corden’s Francis Henshall, hired by both the disguised sister of a dead criminal (delightful Jemima Rooper) and the toff twit who killed him (brilliant Oliver Chris), can operate on parallel planes of onstage mayhem and audience-baiting.
Corden, too, has a much easier second act after the physical exertions of the first, in which he engages two stooges from the front stalls to help move a large trunk, throws himself around the stage like a demented bumble-bee and beats himself up with a dustbin lid.
His manipulation of the audience is a comedy master class. Corden copes magnificently with anything thrown at him (go on, I dare you), and was almost scuppered on press night with an unsolicited gift of pork pies from the front stalls. And there’s a brilliantly original involvement of one customer who’s not quite what she seems but plays the innocence card superbly.
Mark Thompson’s Brighton breezy setting fits very well on the Adelphi stage with its red brick Victorian terracing, windy esplanade and loving recreation of the Cricketers’ Arms. Bean’s appropriation of Goldoni is total: he mixes the exact skeleton of the plot with a sky-high corny joke count, a torrent of Cockney slang and banter, and one or two of those alliterative comic riffs that are pure music hall.
The front cloth skiffle band interludes and songs by Grant Olding are joyously integrated, and it’s sheer pleasure once again to bask not only in Corden’s company but in the deadly precision of Suzie Toase’s lubricious Dolly, the bluff density of Fred Ridgeway’s small-time godfather and the angular absurdity of Daniel Rigby’s posing, leather-jacketed actor, Alan Dangle.
The year is 1963, Philip Larkin’s “annus mirabilis” which in this gloriously cheeky show translates as “wonderful bottom” while also heralding the advent of the Beatles, both in Jemima Rooper’s lovely Ringo-ish performance and the clever pastiche song by the onstage band, all subtly adopting appropriate physical characteristics.