The National Theatre’s smash hit comedy starring James Corden, based on Italian comedy classic The Servant of Two Masters by Carlo Goldoni, arrives in Scotland on its first national tour trailing rave reviews in its wake. And it’s easy to see why.
Quite frankly, if you don’t find yourself doubled over with laughter at some point during Richard Bean’s saucy seaside postcard adaptation, directed here by Sir Nicholas Hytner, then you need your pulse examined.
I have to admit though I had my reservations. Basically, because any time I see the overbearing Gavin and Stacey star on TV, my first instinct is to reach for the Off switch.
But there’s no denying Corden, ( who is reunited with director, Sir Nicholas Hytner, for the first time since “Smithy” donned a Grammar school blazer as Timms in Alan Bennett’s The History Boys), is in absolutely cracking form here. And he isn’t the only one, in a production oozing class, and gale- force comic brio.
Goldoni’s 18thcentury commedia dell’Arte original took place in Venice. Here the setting is a neatly sketched early Sixties Brighton underworld, where Corden’s put- upon, food- obsessed Francis Henshall, goes to work as a minder for two bosses without the other knowing, to make ends meet. One is Jemima Hooper’s Rachel Crabbe, who is posing as her dead twin brother Roscoe in the hope that she can con some loot off a local gangster; the other her fiancée, and brother’s murderer, toff-on-the-run, Stanley Stubbers (Oliver Chris).
Cue a bumper feast of misdirections, misconceptions, malapropisms, witty innuendo and gags galore. Not to mention some fine, energetic lung busting comic anarchy from Corden as our hapless and confused hero Francis.
Nowhere more so than in the central scene that sees him exhaustedly try to serve both his guvnors dinner in different rooms in the same pub at the same time, aided only by Tom Edden’s hilariously doddery, geriatric waiter Alfie. Think a hangdog, snuggle-toothed Manuel from Fawlty Towers crossed with Julie Walters’ elderly deaf waitress dishing out “two soups”, only not as efficient.
If Corden steals the show here- you get the feeling that somewhere down the line he’s going to make some director a very fine Falstaff- he is more than ably backed by an excellent supporting cast. In particular, Oliver Chris is absolutely spiffing as the braying posh killer while Daniel Rigby gets just as many laughs as a broken- hearted thesp who just can’t stop emoting.
A heady combination of slapstick, panto, ad lib (who would have thought you could get so much mileage out of requesting a sandwich?), music hall and audience participation in which the “fourth wall” is constantly being dismantled, this is commedia dell'Arte meets Carry On with bells on.Throw into the mix a toe-tapping, live skiffle band, and what’s not to enjoy?
One Man, Two Guvnors. King’s Theatre, Edinburgh until sat 29 Oct. Tel: 0131 529 600