In these trying times, the curtains are drawn and the auditorium doors closed in theatres up and down the country, but in order to keep the industry moving, a number of productions have began to be streamed online. The National Theatre have been showing their productions, either live or filmed, into cinemas for a number of years and now they are giving theatre fans the opportunity to enjoy some of their most loved shows from the comfort of their own homes by launching National Theatre at Home. On Thursday night, they kick started this new service by streaming their critically acclaimed 2011 production of Richard Bean’s One Man, Two Guvnors, starring James Corden.
One Man, Two Guvnors tells the story of Francis Henshall (James Corden), who takes a job as a minder for small time East End criminal Roscoe (Jemima Rooper), completely unaware that it is actually Roscoe’s twin sister Rachel masquerading as her brother. Desperate for extra money to spend on food, Francis takes an extra job, working for Stanley Stubbers (Oliver Chris). In order to prevent being found out, he must keep his two guvnors apart from each other.
With multiple cases of mistaken identity, audience interaction and plenty of slapstick, this production is a classic example of a farce, effortlessly creating moments of genuine laughter without distracting from the story. With fun and catchy music played by a live band between the scenes, the action rattles along nicely and the regular breaking of the fourth wall makes this feel different from your typical straight play. The set design is big and beautiful, transporting us to homes, pubs and even Brighton Pier.
It is James Corden in the role of Francis Henshall who really drives the action and ultimately steals the show. Long before he was known for hosting The Late Late Show, this was a real break through role for Corden, the perfect showcase to display his talents for physical comedy and witty wordplay. Through fun interactions with the audience, we are given a glimpse into the innermost working of this character, and are told openly about his motivation for his actions, whether that be hunger driving his every move or the chance for romance. It is clear that Corden is enjoying every moment of it, and giving it his absolute all. Seeing a performer truly loving what they do makes watching the performance all the more enjoyable from an audience member’s point of view.
Jemima Rooper and Oliver Chris play the guvnor’s Roscoe/Rachel Crabbe and Stanley Stubbers respectively. Two very different characters who both delight equally in bossing poor Francis around, whilst remaining blissfully unaware to the fact that he is working for both of them. Rooper handles the dual roles of Roscoe and Rachel with an apparent ease whilst Chris’ take on the character of Stanley is a wonderful bundle of chaotic energy. Daniel Rigby provides a number of comical moments are wannabe actor Alan Dangle, parading around the stage as if every moment is something out of a great Shakespeare play and Suzanne Toase impresses as Dolly, the feminist figure of power who has Francis wrapped around her little finger. Special credit has to be given to Tom Edden, who proves a scene stealer as elderly waiter Alfie, bumbling around the stage and performing some brilliant feats of physical comedy.
Although complex and fast paced, the story is fun and easy to follow with a number of big laugh moments. The ensemble work extremely hard, playing multiple characters whilst moving set and preparing scenes. In my opinion, I feel that the first act was perhaps a little bit too long but the characters were well developed and believable, filling the running time well. The use of music throughout provided both additional narrative and covered breaks in the action well, whilst giving Corden and Chris chances to show off their musical talents with xylophones and horns.
To finish, One Man, Two Guvnors is a prime example of a classic farce for it doesn’t take itself too seriously yet manages to stick to the story being told. With it’s array of fun and funny characters and a comical plot that spirals out of control as the story progresses, it’s a crowd pleaser and I am sure that by streaming it online, The National Theatre have made a lot of people stuck at home very happy.