Directed by Nicholas Hytner
Pros: Easily the funniest show in town, different-in-a-good-way to the original, Owain Arthur is ridiculously good, The Craze are still playing the music.
Cons: None. Except for the fact that it gets out at the same time as Phantom of the Opera, forcing you to share limited pavement space with so-called ‘Phans’!
Our Verdict: Still at the top of it’s game, it remains the must-see show in London.
Last year in May we wandered into the National Theatre’s Lyttelton theatre to see One Man, Two Guvnors during one of its very first previews. We had no idea what the play was about or even what genre it was (we had booked tickets simply because we like to see everything at the National). Three hours later, we left feeling physically exhausted from continuous hysterical laughter; the National had another hit on its hands.
Since then, Nicholas Hytner’s production has been the most talked about production of the year in London. Our original glowing review
was one of the first to be published, it received five star reviews from everyone else, and it has scooped a number of prestigious awards as well. The West End had been crying out for a decent comedy and the National had delivered. Our follow-up article
continued to sing its praises, and the show hit the headlines, re-igniting James Corden’s career and fixing his struggling reputation. After its run at the National, it transferred into the Adelphi, and the original production has now moved to Broadway, taking James Corden, Jemima Roper, Daniel Rigby and Oliver Chris (most of the original cast) with it.
Although Corden & co. have gone across the pond, London hasn’t finished with this superb British success story (seriously, it’s so good that I’m actually attaching National pride to it – we have to have something to be proud of!). A new production with a new cast has now opened at the Theatre Royal Haymarket
. I was sceptical: the original was so good, that any new production was surely doomed to live in its shadow or fail completely? Additionally, the part of Francis Henshall was written for James Corden, so it couldn’t possibly work without him, right? Wrong. Very wrong!
The new One Man, Two Guvnors is still easily the funniest show in town. Newcomer, former understudy and current Welshman Owain Arthur takes over the lead role as the slightly less chubby Francis Henshall, and what a performance he delivers! As with Corden he carries the show, delivering one of the most energetic and hilarious portrayals that you could possibly hope to see. Ignoring the bar set by his predecessor, Arthur brings his own brand of comedy to the show, and you really couldn’t have a more likeable actor; his facial expressions may even have been slightly funnier than Corden’s! The really good news is that nothing has changed, except for the bits you would want to be changed. Both Corden and Arthur are brilliant, but in subtly different ways. To those who believe the chance to see the most hysterical show in town has gone, or who think that this part was written exclusively for Corden (I’ll admit this included myself originally), then think again. There’s a new kid on the block, and he’s bloody good.
Arthur’s supporting cast are also outstanding. Ben Mansfield is wonderful as public-school boy Stanley Stubbers, delivering another sublime comic performance. At one point when he was on stage, I was laughing so hard I couldn’t breathe properly! Gemma Whelan is delightful as Rachel Crabbe, and even Jodie Prenger (whom I was not impressed with in Oliver) was marvellous as Dolly. I really don’t want to compare them to the original cast. They are different-in-a-good-way, and each adds something new to the role. Fundamentally the end result is the same: pure, unadulterated laughter.
Everything else is as it was; skiffle band The Craze still provide brilliant and comedy-enhancing musical interludes, Mark Thompson’s design is still the same excellent version of 1960s Brighton, and at the end of it I still left feeling tired from laughter.
So there you have it, nothing to worry about! One Man, Two Guvnors is as brilliant as it ever was. I’ve seen literally dozens of productions in the last year, and pretty much every show on the West End, and this is just such a good evening that it easily tops my list of shows to see in London. If you only have time to see one show, see this one. You won’t regret it, it’s the best London has to offer. If you saw the version with James Corden, then you should see Owain Arthur’s version too. In the words of Charlie Clinch, they are ‘the same, only an ickle-bit different’, and that difference is the best thing about it.
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and comments in the section below!
One Man, Two Guvnors runs at the Theatre Royal Haymarket and is booking until 31st August 2013.