One Man, Two Guvnors

There's a hummus sandwich on the go and Daniel Rigby playing a tune on his bare chest in the latest NT Live Broadcast

One Man, Two Guvnors is low-brow, frequently offensive, often ridiculous and possibly one of the funniest things seen on stage, or screen this year. It is a rumbustious, witty, riotous farce, an adaptation of Carlo Goldonis The Servant of Two Masters written by Richard Bean.

The latest of the NT Live broadcasts has cross-dressing women, star-crossed romance and a few musical turns from the multi-talented cast - including James Corden on xylophone.

Corden plays the hapless, hungry skiffle-board player Francis Henshell, who goes from having no jobs to having two. One is as minder to gangland thug Roscoe Crabbe, who is actually Rachel Crabbe (Jemima Rooper) impersonating her dead brother, who is town to collect a debt from tight-as-a-duck's....ahem...gangster Charlie Clench (Fred Ridgeway).

The other is as batman to the upper-class and casually violent Stanley Stubbers (Oliver Chris), who is on the run from the police after stabbing his future-brother-in-law Roscoe Crabbe to death. Despite having two jobs, two wages and two weeks holiday from each Guvnor, Henshell is '16 hours nil by mouth'.


Confused yet? Don't worry, so is the befuddled Henshell who bounces off the walls trying to keep his two Guvnors happy and in the dark. He fails miserably, and hilariously, at both, absent-mindedly eating important letters, constantly muddling up who has told him what and blaming everything on cod-Irish Paddy.

Meanwhile, Pauline Clench (Claire Lams) is about to get engaged to the over-the-top Orlando 'Alan' Dangle (Daniel Rigby) – he wants to be an actor – but now that Crabbe is alive her engagement to him is back on. Dangle exits, stage left, swearing to take an over-enunciated revenge on his love rival. He returns, armed with a knife, 'From Woolies!'

It is grandly and shamelessly ridiculous and has the audience in the Queen's Film Theatre in kinks throughout.

Corden's Henshell is a likeable buffoon, bashing through the fourth wall to drag the audience into his world. Sometimes to his own detriment, as one helpful theatre-goer nearly derails the plot by producing a hummus sandwich on demand.

Driven by base appetites – hunger and lust – Henshell constantly trips over his own low cunning. Yet there is child-like innocence to him and in the end … well, let's not spoil that.

Corden's sheer fluid physicality in the role is astounding. He throws himself from one end of the stage to the other as if he is made of nothing but india rubber and glee. Sweating through his over-sized, checked suit like a man running, and lying, his tail off, Corden is a perpetual motion machine on stage.

In any other production, he would have stolen the show easily. Here, however, he had to work to hold the spotlight while on stage with the likes of Jemima Rooper, who swaggered and thugged enthusiastically as Roscoe, and Daniel Rigby, whose incredibly pretentious Alan was incredibly entertaining.

And it would be a crime not to mention Oliver Chris' wonderfully horrible Stanley Stubbers, Henshell's second Guvnor and Rachel Crabbe's betrothed.

Stubbers is an inveterate snob prone to saying the most horrible things with the most deadpan face – 'I'm public school trained. I'm fine as long as I have a bed, a chair and no one – ahem – on my face'. He shouldn't have been nearly as much fun as he was. 

In fact, all the cast were wonderful and seemed to be having a tremendous time with the production. The audience certainly was. Despite boasting that the play has 'nothing more on its mind than making people laugh' One Man, Two Guvnors deserves every rave review it has gotten over the run. As someone in the audience said, 'that was the best £10 I've spent for a while'.

If you missed the NT Live broadcast, then 'whoop-si-diddly-di-do', as Stubbers might say. The show is touring, but Northern Ireland isn't mentioned.

The next NT Live broadcast at Queen's Film Theatre is The Kitchen by Arnold Wesker on Oct 6.