Lockdown Theatre Review: One Man, Two Guvnors, National Theatre at Home

I really love National Theatre at Home
I really don’t love One Man, Two Guvnors 

“I’ve paid for these sausage rolls, so why waste ’em”

To start on a positive, I think we can agree that National Theatre at Home is a huge success. The type of scheme that only large institutions can hope to really pull off but even so, managing the kind of appointment-to-view occasion that was its debut with One Man, Two Guvnors was still a remarkable achievement. Because it is more than just releasing digital versions of plays on streaming services, it is about trying to capture just a spark of that special charge of electricity that comes with going to see live theatre.

Whilst that particular pleasure is denied us during the Covid-19 crisis, this strategy of drip-releasing the NT’s considerable archive on a weekly basis feels like an extremely canny move. Clamouring voices have been demanding that every production they can think of be released but a mass dump of everything would be counter-productive, too easily forgotten once the initial excitement has passed. Heck, even I was excited for this Thursday to arrive to take part, despite being no lover of One Man, Two Guvnors or James Corden.

And I was actually curious to see the show again, to see whether the notoriety with which it sits in my mind was at all exaggerated. I have to say that it wasn’t, so much of Nicholas Hytner’s production rubbing me up the wrong way once again (you can read my original review here). In fact in some ways it was worse, knowing in advance the extent of the faux corpsing makes Corden’s performance feel so hollow, especially given how wonderfully the likes of Daniel Rigby and Oliver Chris milk so much humour from the actual text.

My feelings about so much of slapstick aside, I was surprised that Richard Bean’s script, adapted liberally from Goldoni’s The Servant of Two Masters, continues to be so feted. Relocating the play to 1960s Brighton allows for the prevalence of an unreconstructed sense of humour that punches down at any target it can find in a way I’d forgotten. Maybe I’m taking it too seriously, maybe all’s fair in love and comedy, but I prefer to laugh with than at. Still, that people had the opportunity to laugh at all is testament to the National’s achievement. And the songs are good.  

Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes (with interval)
Photo: Johan Persson
One Man, Two Guvnors is available on demand for the next seven days at National Theatre at Home

Free theatre is never really free – if you can make a donation of any size, then please think about doing so 

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