One Man, Two Guvnors
Director: Nicholas Hytner
Writer: Richard Bean
Based on: Carlo Goldoni‘s Servant of Two Masters
Cast: James Corden, Jemima Rooper, Oliver Chris, Suzie Toase, Daniel Rigby, Claire Lams, Tom Edden
Seen on: 9.4.2020
[Here’s my review of an Austrian production of Goldoni’s play.]
Content Note: rape joke
Pauline (Claire Lams) and Alan (Daniel Rigby) are celebrating their engagement when Frances (James Corden) knocks on the door to announce that his employer Roscoe (Jemima Rooper) is there. Roscoe supposedly died a couple of days ago and his sudden appearance is doubly upsetting because Pauline, and more importantly her dowry, were promised to him long time ago. What Pauline doesn’t know is that it isn’t actually Roscoe but his twin sister Rachel who comes to collect the dowry, so she can flee with her fiancé who did kill Roscoe. As Rachel-as-Roscoe waits for the dowry, she takes camp in a hotel. Also in that hotel – unbeknownst to Rachel – is her fiancé Stanley (Oliver Chris). Thinking him unemployed, Stanley hires Frances who is always looking for a way to get to some food. But serving two guvnors isn’t easy, as Frances soon discovers.
I missed this production when it came to the cinemas and now that National Theatre is offering some of their plays to watch at home, it was the ideal opportunity for me to catch up with this one, since I heard a lot of good things about it. And I have to say, it was a very enjoyable production that definitely made me laugh.
When I saw the Austrian production of the play, I thought that it wasn’t bad, but that the play simply wasn’t for me. One Man, Two Guvnors didn’t entirely sell me on the play, either, but it did work even better than the Austrian production on bringing me closer to it. Part of it is certainly that it allowed itself to deviate from the original in many ways – setting it in the 60s in the UK (instead of 18th century Italy) necessitated it and it did make the play feel fresher than the old language would have been able to achieve.
Another part was, quiet simply, James Corden. His Frances hits just the right notes between dickishness and charme, and they found the perfect amount of audience interaction, too, where he improvises nicely. Next to him, the rest of the cast almost disappears, although Oliver Chris (I think it’s the third thing I saw with him and he was always fantastic), Jemima Rooper and Suzy Toase do manage to carve out their spaces. (Unfortunately, Dolly – my favorite character in the Austrian production – wasn’t given as much room to play in here.)
That being said, not everything was good about the production. There were a couple of jokes that they shouldn’t have gone for. In particular, there is a rape joke about boarding school and little boys that is really offensive and just not funny. It really took away my laughter for a good while after they did it. Plus, they did have musical interludes and while the music was nice, I didn’t think it added much to the play. To me, it felt like unnecessary padding – and since the production is over 2.5 hours, padding really wasn’t called for.
Still, I did enjoy myself and the play did make me laugh. It was certainly a pleasant afternoon to watch it and I’m glad to have caught up with it (hopefully NTL continues with this streaming at home stuff).