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One Man Two Guvnors Reviewed

Joan Davies adores a James Corden-enhanced lark about

Published on October 13th 2011.

One Man Two Guvnors Reviewed

ROLL back to 1963.  The Beatles have just arrived, skiffle is doomed, and the sixties are about to begin. Properly. Brighton probably had a head start.  This is the setting for an unlikely tale, One Man, Two Guvnors which succeeds in getting the Lowry’s Lyric Theatre audience, all 1730 of them, to laugh out loud again and again and again. 

This production is a triumph for the National Theatre’s touring programme which brings original work, often with the original cast, to a wider audience. 

The rapid sell-out of tickets – there may be a few standing ones left – is not only due to the popularity of James Corden, who takes the leading role in Richard Bean’s rewriting of  Carlo Goldoni’s The Servant of Two Masters, but also to the four and five star reviews the production, by The National Theatre, has attracted. 


Goldoni’s work, written in the mid eighteenth century,  is based on Commedia dell’ Arte, a sixteenth century Italian brand of theatre.  Bean’s updating is welcome and fun and manages to ensure that the original flavour shines through, with sex, food and money high on the list of character motivations, plenty of physical comedy, and a variety of entertaining turns. 

James Corden plays Francis Henshall, a former and newly-redundant washboard player from a skiffle band.  He finds employment as a minder to Roscoe Crabbe, a small time criminal.  Actually Roscoe is dead and is being impersonated by his twin sister Rachel in an attempt to protect his murderer, her boyfriend Stanley Stubbers.  Unaware of the relationship Francis then accepts a job with Stanley, and needs to keep his two guvnors apart to ensure a lucrative dual career and plenty of food. 

A classic opportunity for farce, this unlikely plot is the basis for a highly entertaining evening of comedy, rapid-fire exchanges and groan-inducing one-liners interspersed with welcome musical interludes as the scenes change. 

The cast is superb.  Special mention should go to the two employers, Jemima Rooper as Roscoe/Rachel Crabbe and Oliver Chris as Stanley Stubbers, and also to Fred Ridgeway, recently seen at the Royal Exchange, as the twins’ father Charlie. Suzie Toase’s Dolly, straight out of a comedy version of TV’s Mad Men, is a delightful portrayal and makes the most of her direct to audience commentary. 


The physical comedy of Tom Edden as Alfie, the eighty-seven year old rookie waiter powered by pacemaker, was a hit with the audience and gained the second loudest cheer at the curtain call. The band, The Craze, start the evening on a high note and everything moves upwards from there; by the start of the second act they’re even doing a passable Beatles' tribute. 

James Corden is superb in the main role.  His role, a modern Harlequin, demands a gift for comic timing, a natural engagement of audience sympathy, and great dexterity with words and tumbling. He performs some substantial set-pieces, expertly executed, and has the apparent ability to improvise at the drop of a hat, a sandwich or a soup tureen.  It’s the sort of comedy that can very easily go wrong, very easily look contrived, and force large parts of the audience into silence.  

That it doesn’t fail is very much due to Corden’s skills. 

But skills of the whole team are essential in building the platform on which he can shine.  Richard Bean’s writing keeps action just the right side of madness, paying homage to the Commedia dell’ Arte origins, and maintaining pace and entertainment value with a range of minor turns.


Under Nicholas Hytner’s direction the rest of the cast play their roles as larger than life cartoon characters, their short punchlines direct to audience and always true to character, a fairly simple character at that.   This allows Corden’s Henshall a natural approach, both more relaxed and more frenetic.  We’re on his side and he’s on ours; and he plays the audience even better than he plays the zylophone.  He also sings, but only once he’s eaten. 

I hadn’t been much of a James Corden fan until now.  I’d enjoyed his earlier work but his more recent over-exposure had brought out my cynical streak. 

Until now.  I’m converted.  

This production is a triumph for the National Theatre’s touring programme which brings original work, often with the original cast, to a wider audience.  One Man, Two Guv’nors was also streamed to cinemas around the world a few weeks ago.  But nothing compares with a live performance.  This brought a great audience to The Lowry with the cheaper seats packed with appreciative school and college groups. 

The National Theatre’s production of ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS, with James Corden, is on tour in the UK before a transfer to London’s West End.  It runs at The Lowry until Saturday 15 October




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Christine KilbyOctober 13th 2011.

An excellent review with which I completely agree. I recently saw the NT Live broadcast and thought it was great but I am so glad I also saw the live version today at The Lowry - no comparison really. I think the (excellent) cast would have been very pleased with this afternoon's audience reaction. It went down a storm. I saw James Corden in the History Boys years ago - he was outstanding in that too. He went on to achieve big success on TV but I started to find him incredibly irritating and at times cringe-making. I am so glad to see his many talents back on display on stage where he shines. I know a boy has to eat and the big money is probably elsewhere but for my money, theatre is where he belongs -his voice isn't bad either!

JABOctober 14th 2011.

I was lucky enough to be at the Lowry the other night, with 'Guest appearances' from John Bishop and Jason Mamford. Loved every second of it, and would be happy to pay to go again. Very, very funny. Credit to Corden, the aspiring actor fiance and Alfie. 10/10!

ShowbizseanOctober 14th 2011.

Yes, agreed. One of the best all round nights out at the theatre I have had in ages...and I have seen some classy stuff recently (Lear w Jacobi, Richard III w Kevin Spacey, Much Ado w David Tennant, Frankenstein at National, etc), but this just just topped them all . Brilliantly witty lines superbly delivered by a uniformly talented cast...James Corden was excellent and kept the audience thoroughly engaged through every scene and we loved the 'Actor' boyfriend and Stanley Stubbins the Public-School 'Guvnor' in particular, but every cast member shone. I loved the 4th wall/Panto style asides, the audience banter and physical comedy...this was British Theatre Comedy distilled to a pure form...21st Century Panto! I was in for the John Bishop & Jason Manford cameo night and that was just a small bonus to a wonderful live experience.

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