Review Round-up: Five Stars for National's Man
Based on Goldoni's 18th-century comedy Servant of Two Masters, One Man, Two Guvnors follows Francis Henshall's (James Corden) efforts to keep his two guvnors (Oliver Chris and Jemima Rooper) apart in fear of discovery.
"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 ... The playing, and the discipline, remains of a very high standard ... 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!') ... 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 ... 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."
"... For almost three blissful hours cares are forgotten and gnawing anxieties put aside as you surrender to great waves of healing laughter. It is absolute bliss ... It’s pretty funny in its original form but Richard Bean has transformed it into a delirious English carry-on set in Brighton in 1963, creating scenes and dialogue that often leave the audience helpless with hilarity ... His script is a bang-on-the-money mixture of wisecracks, sight gags, and fiendish moments of audience participation. The jokes and verbal sallies just keep on coming, while the cast give every impression of enjoying themselves as much as the audience without slipping into the ill-disciplined self-indulgence that can kill comedy stone dead ... James Corden is continuously funny and endearing ... Oliver Chris is possibly even funnier than Corden ... Jemima Rooper is hugely engaging as the heroine ... Daniel Rigby offers a superb turn as a preposterous, self-regarding actor, while Suzie Toase brings a busty, good-humoured warmth to the stage as the woman who falls for Henshall’s well-padded charms ... Grit your teeth, increase your credit card bill and briefly forget your cares at the funniest show in town. "
"Richard Bean's delicious reworking of Carlo Goldoni's Servant Of Two Masters, a classic 18th-century comedy, seems even better in its new West End incarnation than when first seen at the National Theatre in May ... The physical comedy has been brilliantly crafted by Cal McCrystal, and the result is a savoury hybrid of farce, cartoon and pantomime, with the occasional touch of understated pathos ... Corden is superb as Francis Henshall ... He's charismatic, genial and wonderfully energetic, developing a lovely rapport with the audience ... There's zesty support from Jemima Rooper, Suzie Toase, Tom Edden as a decrepit waiter and Daniel Rigby, as an absurdly over-the-top aspiring actor. Especially impressive is Oliver Chris, who as Stanley (one of Francis's two masters) has many of the zingiest lines and exudes an improbable mixture of snooty arrogance and charm. Verbally and visually it's a show of unusual vitality. It actually gets off to an unremarkable start, but there is an hour or so at its heart that is as purely enjoyable as anything I have ever seen at the theatre. The effervescent Corden, whose career has previously included some wayward decisions, has more than redeemed himself in this golden production. The fact that he will lead the cast when it transfers to Broadway in April is great news for the National Theatre. For now One Man, Two Guvnors is a treasure illuminating the West End."Michael Billington
"Transfers can be tricky. But Richard Bean's updated version of Goldoni's comic classic seems, if anything, even funnier than it did at the National ... Nicholas Hytner's production adapts perfectly to the art deco space of the Adelphi and the evening generates the kind of uproarious laughter of which our theatre has lately been starved ... the mixture of improvisation with immaculate planning is perfectly exemplified by James Corden's brilliant Francis ... the improvisatory fun is combined with skilled physical comedy for which Cal McCrystal now gets due credit ... Tom Edden gives one of supporting performances of the year as Alfie, an octogenerian waiter ... Bean's script is full of good gags which the actors play to the hilt. Oliver Chris as the snooty Stanley, Daniel Rigby as a posturing actor with echoes of Olivier and Brando and Jemima Rooper as the besuited Rachel are all first-rate ... The show, in short, is a tonic which confirms Eric Bentley's point that farce is the quintessence of theatre and which combines a tightly-written text with the gaiety of popular entertainment. I suspect you would had to have had a humour by-pass not to enjoy it."Sarah Hemming
"Nicholas Hytner’s perfectly pitched production of Richard Bean’s delirious comedy is sharp, silly and trimmer than at the outset: gloriously funny and a plum piece of seasonal entertainment ... The delight lies in the contrast between the characters’ deadly earnestness and the absurdity of the situation, together with the fact that, as in life, everyone is terrified of being found out. Bean’s dialogue glitters with one-liners and wordplay, while the physical comedy director Cal McCrystal provides some inspired slapstick sequences, climaxing in a virtuoso dinner scene in which Tom Edden excels as a doddery old waiter. But Hytner’s production ... also tiptoes deftly along the line between innocence and knowingness, with Corden chatting away to the audience about the rules of commedia dell’arte. It’s a game, but one played seriously – and that is the joy. Corden manages this beautifully: his Francis is tremendously endearing, stepping in and out of character to work the audience, and handling slapstick with nimble flair ... But this is no one-man show. The fine cast creates a gallery of disastrous, yet lovable characters, from Daniel Rigby’s ridiculous would-be actor, to Suzie Toase’s minxy secretary and Oliver Chris’s superb, Teflon-coated toff. Laced with skiffle music, this show is a tonic for a gloomy winter."
"When this wildly funny comedy first opened at the National Theatre in May, I went into the office the next morning — still chuckling at the sensational slapstick, still chortling at the sustained skill of James Corden’s gorgeously outsized performance — and urged a theatre-phobic colleague to, really, honestly, go and see this one ... Granted, there were teething troubles at the West End opening last night — Corden and Co struggled to find their rhythm in the first half hour, whether because of first-night nerves or because they’re playing a 1,500-seater more often used for (amplified) musicals. But once Corden got stuck into his first bout of audience interaction — the fourth wall? forget it — he relaxed, and Nicholas Hytner’s production really started to motor. Right, nothing goes smoothly, and yet everything works like clockwork in a show both broad and sophisticated. A show that knows the comic value of an old man falling down a set of stairs, but also understands our expectations and knows how to play with them at speed ... But all of the cast play it big without playing it bogus, from Oliver Chris as the enthused yet supercilious Stanley ... to Suzie Toase as the feminist sexpot Dolly and Jemima Rooper as the cross-dressing Rachel. Grant Olding’s on-stage skiffle band ... keep up the infectious good cheer ... The lessening of intimacy is a pity. But this remains a remarkably enjoyable reinvention of commedia dell’arte: broad comedy delivered with deadly accuracy."
- Natalie Generalovich