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Review Round-up: Corden Wins Big with Guvnors

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Nicholas Hytner's One Man, Two Guvnors opened at the National Theatre last night (25 May 2011, previews from 17 May), with Richard Bean adapting Carlo Goldoni's The Servant of Two Masters for a cast led by History Boy and Gavin and Stacey star James Corden.

Corden is joined in the cast by David Benson, Oliver Chris, Martyn Ellis, Trevor Laird, Claire Lams, Fred Ridgeway, Daniel Rigby, Jemima Rooper and Suzie Toase.

The production, which runs in rep at the NT Lyttelton until 26 July 2011, will then tour to Aylesbury, Plymouth, Salford, Birmingham and Edinburgh from 27 September 2011.

Michael Coveney

"The first half of Richard Bean’s version of Goldoni’s classic 18th century farce is the funniest 80 minutes I’ve spent in a theatre since the first time I saw Michael Frayn’s Noises Off ... I am astounded by James Corden ... Bean and director Nicholas Hytner take us inside the Cricketers Arms... with a snooty head waiter (David Benson) and his decrepit sidekick, Alfie (played with a stricken, lugubrious terror by Tom Edden) ... The great secret of Hytner’s success is the care and deliberation of the playing ... It’s a sheer pleasure, in fact, to savour the utter avoidance of some sort of chaotic mess ... Jemima Rooper is beyond brilliant as a mooching Ringo Starr lookalike ... For as long as Corden can stay in the production, this is certain to become one of the biggest hits in the National’s history. It’s beguilingly designed by Mark Thompson as a love letter to Brighton, and punctuated with front cloth comedy turns by the cast themselves in cahoots with a splendid skiffle band."

Libby Purves
The Times

"When the artistic director announces that, following his acclaimed Hamlet, he will personally direct an adaptation of an 18th-century classic of historical significance, one expects scholarly thoroughness. Cue trouser-dropping, slapstick, alliterative cross-talk, a pie in the face, a fat man in check tweeds ... Nicholas Hytner demonstrates with hilarious panache that nothing is new ... Audiences of any century would recognise the characters... at its heart the cunning, put-upon servant, the eternal Harlequin. Here he is James Corden, clowning for England as he plays off his boss Rachel — a brilliantly swaggering Jemima Rooper disguised as her dead twin brother — against his other boss: Oliver Chris quite perfect as a posh idiot ... Some jokes are pure panto — there is a slosh scene and a chest wig ... Corden at times mercilessly recruits audience members ... Trevor Laird as the ex-con Lloyd can, by the end, double us up without even saying his punchline aloud. And at the upper end of the comic spectrum Bean provides gags from the surreal to the satiric. There is a Hamlet joke, a genetics joke, some fine bad-actor jokes, and a very funny Thatcher reference ... Many layers of fun."

Michael Billington

"In 1746, Carlo Goldoni wrote a classic comedy normally translated as The Servant of Two Masters. Richard Bean has used it for a riotous farce... one of the funniest productions in the National's history ... James Corden makes the transition from Gavin and Stacey to revved-up Goldoni with consummate ease. As in the original, the character is driven by omnivorous hunger, and it is wonderful to see Corden chewing a letter in desperation ... Corden's gift is for combining a porpoise-like physicality with a profound geniality that even incorporates the front row into the show ... Bean and his director, Nicholas Hytner, have managed to make the dinner scene funnier than ever by adding a character: an octogenarian waiter, magnificently played by Tom Edden ... While Corden is central, there is a rich host of performances. Oliver Chris as Stanley is a walking monument to public school arrogance. Daniel Rigby as a would-be actor is a brilliant compendium of old-school theatrical mannerisms. Jemima Rooper as the male-attired Rachel has a wonderful macho swagger, and Suzi Toase gives full value to Francis's well-upholstered Brighton belle ... The National, in taking on an old Italian play, has not only improved Goldoni but also struck gold."

Quentin Letts
Daily Mail

"Here, for fattypuff James Corden, is the perfect part ... A work of fantasy, duly staged, at times with so much panache by director Nicholas Hytner that audience members clutch their chests with pained laughter ... The second half does not quite maintain the crazy pace but the night is great fun, all the better for its distinctly English comedy ... This raucous evening has some of the flavour of a Carry On, maybe a touch of Alan Bennett's Habeas Corpus, or maybe adult farce ... The jokes? A man says: 'I’ve felt atrabilious today.' His interlocutor: 'I hope for her sake she enjoyed it' ... The scene that will have the St John’s Ambulance men crouched with their oxygen masks is in a restaurant where Tom Edden plays a decrepit waiter. A top cast includes Oliver Chris as a posh killer, Jemima Rooper as a villain in drag and Martyn Ellis as a solicitor who is even fatter than Henshall. But I feel mean singling them out. Add a lively skiffle band, 'audience participation' and a luscious set. Great stuff."

Henry Hitchings
Evening Standard

"An outrageously broad comedy, albeit one studded with clever and occasionally surreal gags by its adaptor Richard Bean, it verges on pantomime … The central figure is Francis Henshall beautifully brought to life by James Corden, who radiates confidence and charm. Francis takes whatever work he can get and finds himself employed by two gangsters. One is toffish Stanley Stubbers … This is the stuff of farce… Daniel Rigby does a hilarious, hyperbolic impression of a young man convinced it is his destiny to be an actor - or a poet. Goldoni… exploited the conventions of commedia dell'arte, reforming it and heightening its vitality. Bean has done to Goldoni what Goldoni did to his forerunners. His writing luxuriates in the copiousness of comic tradition and honours the possibilities of improvisation, but is also packed with brilliantly original lines. While Oliver Chris as Stanley enjoys the best of these (and is sublime), it is Corden who has to sell the trickiest moments of physical comedy, and he does a delightful job of it, not least when interacting smartly with his public. Nicholas Hytner's production, with a sharp design by Mark Thompson and infectious music by Grant Olding, bubbles over with humour. A surefire hit. "


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