I have seen productions in which the fourth wall has been broken, but never have I witnessed it so colossally obliterated as in last night’s performance of One Man, Two Guvnors. Strangely enough, however, what initially had all the trappings of a car crash came dangerously close to brilliance.
Writer Richard Bean transforms Goldini’s 18th century comedia dell’arte The Servant of Two Masters into a farcical few hours spent in early 1960s Brighton. The gags are frequent and the puns easy, and for this to work, the show relies on a hugely talented cast to carry off the predictability of such overtly slapstick comedy. It is thus fortunate that James Corden, Oliver Chris and Daniel Rigby are just that. Bean has interestingly made the plot almost superfluous to the simple misdemeanours of his characters, for which the play benefits no end.
Corden’s Francis Henshall is a loveable rogue, blithering and blundering his way through the easiest of tasks. It comes as no surprise, then, that when the opportunity to take a second job and serve two ‘guvnors’ arises, he makes a total pig’s ear of it. Incessantly perplexed by the demands of his superiors, neither of whom knows he is working for the other, Corden engages wonderfully with the audience, inviting them into his confused world and refusing to let them leave for the duration of the show. Aided by Chris’ boarding school toff Stanley, Rigby’s fledgling thespian Alan and a stellar four piece band, this reworking of the play’s archaic formula makes for utterly original viewing.
The rulebook had certainly been thrown out of the window for this performance, with the actors repeatedly corpsing onstage and several times (on Corden’s part) coming out of character. But somehow, their clear enjoyment of the play and will for it to succeed made these faux pas endearing, and often hilarious. One Man, Two Guvnors achieves the rather rare feat of stirring deep belly laughs from its audience, rendering it quite impossible not to fall for its clumsy charm.