In our current unprecedented times, several theatres and production companies have stepped up – giving audiences access to resources that formally weren’t available. Front and centre to this is the National Theatre’s National Theatre at Home scheme. The set-up is simple: every Thursday (for the foreseeable future) the theatre powerhouse dives into its vaults and releases (on Youtube) a video of one of its past productions. So, for free and in full, everyone can enjoy the work the subsidised intuition has put out over the past few decades.
And the National Theatre came out with a bang – its debut being one of its biggest hits: One Man, Two Guvnors. Richard Bean’s adaptation of Carlo Goldoni’s The Servant of Two Masters is a delightful farce, a big, broad, charmingly silly affair. Premiering to rave reviews, it proved a West End and Broadway smash, propelling its lead, James Corden, to the stratosphere he now inhabits. It’s theatre at its most likeable and approachable, perfectly suited for those who are agnostic towards the art form while clever enough to thrill those already susceptible to it.
The plot isn’t particularly complicated. Francis Henshall is a man in a predicament, juggling employment as the minder of two criminals in 60s Brighton. The bosses he’s juggling are gangster Roscoe Crabbe (actually Roscoe’s twin Rachel posing as her deceased twin) and Stanley Stubbers (who is on the run for killing Roscoe). From there, the narrative sprawls out, building to a series of high farce set pieces.
The ensemble are exceptional and Corden is truly outstanding as Francis, basking in improvisational moments and audience interaction. It’s a bold turn from Corden, exhibiting no fear as he hurtles through the show. One of the challenges of One Man, Two Guvnors is to pick the performers that stand out, because everyone has moments here, each eking out wave after wave of laughs throughout the production. But special mention must go to Oliver Chris and Jemima Rooper who dominate their exchanges.
The set and costumes are perfect, tweaked with enough artifices to fit the farce taking place around them. The music is bopping, interspersed between scenes. Everything clicks here and it’s perhaps the best show to kick off National Theatre at Home.
The rest of the initial run contains warm, familiar choices. Literary adaptations of Jane Eyre and Treasure Island take much-known stories and updates them to fit a modern audience, while Twelfth Night is one of Shakespeare’s best comedies. Plus, the latter has a fantastic turn from Tamsin Grieg as Malvolio. So tune in every week for what could well be one of the highlights of our new virtual life.