One Man, Two Guvnors at the National Theatre

Location: National Theatre at Home

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By Tim Saunders

It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to watch any adult theatre productions. And so I am extremely grateful to the National Theatre for airing the 2011 recording of their One Man, Two Guvnors production on youtube during the horrendous coronavirus pandemic. There for just seven days it’s an effective way of fundraising, generating over $70,000 at the time I watch it. At 2 hours and 40 minutes the beauty of the internet is that I can dip into it after my wife goes to bed over a couple of nights.

It opens with a 1960s skiffle band dressed like Buddy Holly. This band reappears at each set change. And those sets are excellent, as you would expect.

Set in 1963 it is a great comedy, especially in the first half and I laugh uncontrollably at times. Just what I need.

All the actors deliver excellent performances and James Corden plays the lead role of Francis Henshall, the man with a bad memory and two employers: Stanley and Roscoe. There are many advantages he ponders throughout including if he is sacked from one he’s always got the other. A plot ripe for comedy and does not fail to deliver some rollicking fun. This is the first time I have had chance to watch anything with James Corden in it and he is very watchable. There’s a relaxed, natural air to his performance and throughout he seems to do as he pleases, which can only enhance the entire production. To see him wandering off stage and bringing members of the audience back to include them in the performance is usually only something you’ll see at a pantomime. Very refreshing. As he rolls across the stage floor and even hits himself over the head with a dustbin lid this explosive amount of energy is reminiscent of Lee Evans.

Never would you imagine a dustbin lid playing such a prominent role but when Francis’s second guvnor, Stanley is asked his name, thinking quickly on his feet he eyes the dustbin lid and the pub for inspiration. “My name is Dustin Pubsign,” he concocts to hoots of laughter as he tries to conceal his true identity for fear that he’ll be discovered as Roscoe’s murderer. Ah, for the slow ones amongst us, that will explain why Roscoe looks like a woman then. We later discover that she is Rachel, Roscoe’s twin sister.   

“Has anyone got a sandwich?” asks Francis. A member of the audience is only too willing to offer his humus one. That doesn’t go down well with Francis.

But it is when we are introduced to the 87-year-old waiter (Tom Edden, 33) with a pacemaker where the greatest laughs are to be had for me. It is no surprise that Tom went on to be in Star Wars and Turner. He is an excellent talent who delivers a side-splittingly funny performance. He is great fun to watch and must fall down the staircase three times and have the door smashed in his face the same amount of times. If a performance ever deserved an award it is this one.

Even when the curtain goes down James Corden comes back to expertly play the xylophone. Where do this man’s talents end?

Your heart goes out to poor old Christine Paterson who is mocked from the moment Francis meets her. Pulling her onto the stage she assists with his food preparation and ends up getting covered in foam from a fire extinguisher. At which point the curtain drops.

Those of us who have dressed for the occasion enjoy an ice cream during the 15 minute interval.

As continues to be the case during these extraordinary times there are always good things that emerge and here’s hoping that the National Theatre adds more of its fantastic productions to youtube throughout this pandemic. We all need to lose ourselves in great theatre and this serves to remind us of what a fantastic industry it is.

Thank you National Theatre.

Watch it here.

For more information visit the National Theatre website here.