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One Man Two Guvnors (Plymouth)

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
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If there are any tickets left for the National Theatre on Tour’s One Man Two Guvnors, go get ‘em (or book for its return to the West End in November).

Richard Bean’s adaption of the 18th century comedy by Carlo Goldini is a riot and lives up to its hype.

Set in 1963 Brighton, OMTG is, in essence, an old school farce with plenty of doors, slapstick, and larger than life characters with a hint of Carry On Confusing and excellent musical interludes (from skiffle through the Shadow-esque and steel drums to chest slapping percussion).

Things started a little creakily but that is more to do with premature expectation of side-splitting hilarity but the scene has to be set: bad boy and reportedly recently murdered Roscoe (cross-dressing Jemima Rooper) rather spoils the engagement party of nice-but-dim Pauline (Claire Lams) to the would-be actor son of successful lawyer and Latin-spouting Harry Dangle (Martyn Ellis). The Duck (Fred Ridgeway) has a gangland debt to pay and Roscoe is here to collect.

Also in Brighton, preparing to escape to the land of opera and barbecues, is the hirsute Hooray Henry-type Stanley full of public school other-worldliness and love for the twin sister (yep you’ve got it) of the man he killed.

Roscoe/Rachel employs starving skiffle reject and Lennon advisor Francis Henshall as his/her gofer – and so does Stanley. Neither knows the other is there, Henshall can’t let on that he has two masters and in any event only wants to eat and elope to Majorca with the pneumatic Dolly (Suzie Toase).

Confused? Not as much as Henshall.

James Corden (Gavin and Stacey, The History Boys in case an introduction is actually needed) is fabulous and my 18-this-week daughter is deeply in love. I expected good things but he is hilarious, milking every ounce of comedy from the set pieces (and who will forget the dinner scene or his one-man fisticuffs?) and excellent one-liners, oozing charm and downright good fun but stepping into a class of his own where director Nicholas Hytner leaves him to ad lib or things go awry (oh yes Plymouth theatregoers do eat meatball subs and hummus).

The only disappointment? Radio One’s Big Town challenge.

Corden eclipses a strong cast (which included members of the front row of the stalls at times) but there are particularly memorable performances from Oliver Chris as Stanley, Daniel Rigby as the lovelorn ham Alan and almost stealing the show is Tom Edden as the desperately doddery octogenarian waiter Alfie.

Obvious and predictable – it is a farce after all - but who cares when theatre is this much fun?


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