A surprising side effect of our current quarantine is that theatres, galleries, and museums are finding novels means of public outreach and fundraising with some exceptional benefits. The National Theatre, for example, have begun reviving some of their most acclaimed performances and streaming them on YouTube, free for everyone to enjoy. Last week was One Man, Two Guvnors starring James Corden and boy-oh-boy was it great.
I knew very little of the play going in, apart from that it was a comedy and had some degree of farce to it. I wasn't really prepared for the level of farce on offer though, which was more like a classic Italian pantomime or a Shakespearian comic than its contemporaries - and all the better for it. Corden was exceptional, playing the self-professed "harlequin" and generally jaunting about the stage with excellent comic timing, but his co-stars held their own (and then some) across the board. For my money, the young guy playing the 80+-year-old Alfred was one of the best, though the true standout was "Audience Member #3" (for want of a better name), the plant that they got up during the lunch sequence who played a visibly nervous introvert desperate to get back to her seat, but just British enough to not want to make a fuss, exceptionally. Particularly given this was a filmed play and she had close-ups to contend with, it actually left me utterly unsure of whether she was acting or real. The fact that this had been set up by actual audience participation earlier on was the icing on the cake, selling the moment almost too well.
On which note, that first-act closing lunch sequence was brilliant. Uproariously funny, perfectly paced, and just a huge amount of fun, I haven't laughed that hard in a while. In some ways it's actually too good, leaving very little for act two to follow up with. As a result, my one criticism of the play is that it definitely peaks before the break and never really reaches those same heights again, instead having to shuffle all the cards back into a semi-meaningful order to close things out. It's a shame, because there are individual moments that are fantastic in the second half, but it did feel like it trailed off slightly.
It's a distinctly minor criticism though, and I thoroughly enjoyed the whole play, including the wonderfully unscripted moment with the sandwich 😂 And then there was the musical interludes. Whilst I'm not sure these added a huge amount to the show as a whole, they did help set the scene and, most importantly, gave us the best chest-slapping solo I've ever seen 🤣 What a wonderful upside to this whole pandemic malarkey.