“One Man, Two Guvnors” by Richard Bean

at the Lyttelton Theatre, Saturday 23rd July 2011

If you enter a theatre to find a four-man band (one on a wash board) playing sixties-style songs , you know you’re in for a treat. Richard Bean’s One Man, Two Guvnors is perhaps the funniest play in London this summer. It is no surprise that Nicholas Hytner’s production is already a huge hit, with a tour and West End run already announced.

Based on Carlo Goldoni’s 18th century A Servant of Two Masters, Bean creates a play clearly influenced by Commedia del’Arte which is structured like a traditional farce and looks like an end-of-the-pier show. This is comedy for everyone created in the most sophisticated of ways.

It’s a typically convoluted, absurd farcical set-up. Francis Henshall (James Cordon) bites of more than he can chew, taking on the job of servant for two separate employers. One is posh-boy Stanley Stubbers (Oliver Chris) and the other his girlfriend Rachel Crabbe (Jemima Rooper), masquerading as her brother. It goes without saying that much hilarity ensues.

Hyner’s direction revels in theatricality, supporting the self-awareness of Bean’s script, which is riddled with jokes for the geeks among us. Cal McCrystal’s comic business gives us a laugh pretty much every minute, involving everything from slapstick to unashamed punning, visiting audience participation and toilet humour along the way. Grant Olding’s sixties music, played by The Craze, injects even more joy into proceedings.

A strong cast manages to portray modern-day equivalents of the stock characters with ease. Daniel Rigby and Claire Lams are suitably sickening as the lovers, with Chris and Rooper providing a refreshing contrast. Tom Edden also manages to steal an entire scene as the doddery Alfie at the end of Act One, while Cordon commands both stage and audience, with elements of the harlequin and the human coming through in equal measure. He’s got his mojo back.

This is a sold-out production, but you should do anything you can to find a ticket. Mark Thompson’s stylishly old fashioned set alone is worth the ticket price, and you will be rolling in the aisles throughout (an impressive feat, considering the Lyttelton is devoid of thoroughfares). Just see it. You won’t be disappointed.


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