Richard Bean has based the play on the commedia dell’arte play The Servant of Two Masters by Carlo Goldoni. The time and location have been cheffanged to the 1960s, Brighton, England.
The plot is so complicated, and almost unnecessary, as I’m sure we could put Mr. Corden up on stage with a phone book and he would find a way to make it funny. Corden is Francis Henshal, a poor sod who has foolishly agreed to work for two employers (guvnors) at the same time. Poor Francis’s mental capacity doesn’t seem up for the job as he hasn’t eaten in 16 hours.
One of his governors is Roscoe, or at least our poor sod thinks it’s Roscoe. You see, Roscoe has recently been murdered and is being impersonated by his twin sister Rachel (played with mannish swagger by Jemima Rooper). His other governor is a slim effete man/boy, Stanley Stubbers (a swell Oliver Chris), who also happens to be on the run. He’s Rachel’s intended but he has killed Rachel’s brother, Roscoe, who she is now pretending to be. You see what I mean about the plot. It’s all very silly.
What a cast of colorful characters Mr. Bean has given us. There is Charlie the Duck (Fred Ridgeway), a poor divorcee who was left to bring up his dim-witted daughter Pauline (Claire Lams) all by himself. Pauline has been promised to Roscoe, who is now deceased, leaving her free to marry her new beau, Alan (played with unflinching conviction by Daniel Rigby), a want-to-be actor who spends the evening making grand entrances, striking actor-ly poses and making profound pronouncements like saying his fiancee is “pure, innocent, unsoiled by education, like a new bucket.” Alan’s father is the solicitor Harry Dangle (of Dangle, Berry and Bush, did you catch the joke there) played with perfect pomposity by Martyn Ellis. Dolly (tartly played by Suzie Toase) is Francis’s love interest.
A standout performance is given by Tom Eddin as Alfie the jittery geriatric waiter, his first day on the job. Alfie is continually pushed down stairs, slammed behind opening doors, and even has his pacemaker turned up so far that he spins in circles.
Throughout the evening Mr. Corden breaks the fourth wall and interacts with the audience, at one point even eliciting help from two audience members to help carry a trunk offstage. Later, when he asks if anyone has a sandwich, he is offered a hummus sandwich by one eager audience member and a piece of frosted lemon pound-cake from Starbucks by another (I hate to say it, but I think that these two were put up to it). There is another instance of audience member participation that I won’t spoil by giving you too many details, but the fact that you were unsure up until the end whether or not this person was a “plant” is testament to the marvelous work of this ensemble and their director.
A hot, young, and smartly-clad skiffle band (looking much like the Beatles) called The Craze begins to play 10 minutes before the curtain goes up. The band also covers some scene transitions by coming up on stage and playing through the transition. A few cast members even join the band soloing on various percussive instruments (Corden plays a pretty mean vibraphone). It would seem to me that this would be the year for the Tony awards to give an award for Best Use of Music in a Play. I’m thinking of not only One Man, Two Guvnors but also Peter and the Starcatcher and End of the Rainbow, all of which have a significant musical component.
If you are looking for an opportunity to laugh, One Man, Two Guvnors is just the ticket