Before James Corden became known to American audiences as host of “The Late, Late Show,” he became a theatrical star in the Royal National Theatre’s 2011 production of One Man, Two Guvnors. The production moved from the National Theatre to London’s West End before moving to Broadway the following year, and is this Friday night’s feature on PBS’ Great Performances.
Corden won a Tony Award® for his inspired performance as Francis, a destitute and famished servant who hires himself out to two different bosses. The comedy was originally The Servant of Two Masters by Italian playwright Carlo Goldoni, an 18th century work drawing on the traditions of commedia dell’arte. Richard Bean’s adaptation moves the work to England in the early 1960’s and gives it more of a vaudeville feel.
Director Nicholas Hytner deftly handles this farce. The result in a brilliant mixture of slapstick comedy, humor both low and high, concealed identity, and even some original music hall numbers.
Corden is surrounded by a talented cast, including Jemima Rooper as the cross-dressing twin sister of a dead gangster and Oliver Criss as the twit she inexplicably loves (the two “guvnors” of the title). Tom Edden is a real treat as a doddering old waiter who is much abused during a simultaneous banquet scene that closes Act One, one of the funniest sequences ever staged.
One Man, Two Guvnors airs on local PBS stations from 9:00 – 11:30 p.m. on Friday, November 6th as part of its Great Performances series. Some stations will rebroadcast it during the wee hours of Saturday morning.