One Man, Two Guvnors, now playing at the Music Box, is a throwback in the best of the broad comic tradition. It is a mixture of British Panto, Vaudeville, and Music Hall, with just a pinch of the Carol Burnett Show thrown in. The play is brought to wondrous life by a team of skilled actors, including a perfect turn by James Corden. I laughed my ass off.
Perhaps that isn’t the most subtle of reviews, but it is undoubtedly true and it fits. One Man, Two Guvnors is not a subtle show. It beats you over the head with jokes, schtick and mistaken identities. Puns, double entendrees and pratfalls are thrown at the audience constantly, if one or two (or ten) miss, no problem – more are on the way. And once you succumb to the show, each successive joke is that much funnier.
|James Croden and Oliver Chris on stage in One Man, Two Guvnors|
Photo: Tristram Kenton
James Croden plays Francis Henshall, manservant to a Gangster, Crabbe. Gangster Crabbe, by the way, is actually dead, but being impersonated by his twin sister Rachael. That isn’t much of a spoiler, as it is obvious Gangster Crabbe is a girl the moment she walks on stage – even though no one in the cast spots it. Low on funds, but with an insatiable hunger, Henshall picks up a second Guvnor while settling Gangster Crabbe into the local Pub (with food). This man, Stanley Stubbers, is a criminal on the lamb trying to find his beloved so they can sail away. Henshall must work overtime to keep his two Guvnors apart, while appearing to cater to them both.
The plot is a complicated stew consisting of a dead, gay Gangster extorting money and the promise of marriage – in name only, from a small time hustler and his daughter, while Stanley Stubbers searches Brighton for his girlfriend and everyone tries to avoid the police. The play gives Olivier Criss free reign to wildly overact as Stanley Stubbers, and he does so with abandon. Mr. Criss is excellent.
In a small role as The Actor Boyfriend, Daniel Rigby is effortlessly hilarious. His role, Alan, is the spurned fiancé of the Gay Dead Gangster’s betrothed. And Alan emotes! For this character, no thought goes unsaid, no slight unmentioned, and no gesture is contained. Alan lives in a world of CAPS. Mr. Rigby stands out in a great cast. The ladies in the show are all very good, but are stuck with much less showy roles.
|James Croden and the wonderful Suzanne Toase|
In the end however, as good as the rest of the cast is, the show belongs to Mr. Croden. His Henshall conveys both blithering idiocy, and a sense of street smarts. And the character breaks the fourth wall repeatedly, to exhilarating affect. Director Nicholas Hytner keeps the chaos contained within the story, which is quite a feat. The show seems totally loose and improvised, which belies the skill with which it is presented.
Playwright: Richard Bean
Director: Nicolas Hytner
Cast: James Corden, Oliver Chris, Jemima Roper, Tom Edden, Martyn Ellis, Trevor Laird, Daniel Rigby, Suzanne Toase