by: Sandi Durell

If it’s silly farce that tickles your fancy then “One Man, Two Guvnors,” written by Richard Bean and directed by Nicholas Hytner, will split open the seams of your trousers. Beware, however, that if you have some difficulty with the accent, or British expressions, you might find yourself straining to understand what’s all the ruckus about, and why is the audience laughing so hysterically. This is theatre of the ridiculous; just what’s needed in the stressful day to day we call modern living.

Based on Carlo Goldoni’s (18th C.) Commedia dell’Arte, “The Servant of Two Masters,” this comedy takes place in Brighton in 1963. Briefly, it tells a story of a chubby little man, Francis Henshall, who has two employers, played by one of Britain’s laugh-a-minute funny men, James Corden – whose doughboy appearance, pliable putty-like expressions and body language are the essence of why this production is getting so much good press. Think Laurel & Hardy, Abbott & Costello and Charlie Chaplin. Of course, he’s aided and abetted by an ever-so-talented cast.

 The plot really doesn’t matter that much. Suffice it to say that Henshall seeks two things throughout the 2 ½ hours – food and a female companion. There are lots of off-color jokes, Marx Brothers-like chases, double takes, rolling around on the floor and zany in- your-face vaudeville. He’ll eat anything; even paper. Some of the funniest scenes appear in the second Act, a private club restaurant, as various incarnations of food are brought up by the 86-year old waiter Alfie, played by an unstoppable Tom Edden, who slips, slides, staggers and collides his way throughout.

Jemima Rooper plays Rachel Crabbe, who is cross dressing as her twin brother Roscoe who was murdered by her criminal, self-righteous boyfriend Stanley Stubbers (Oliver Chris) and they both unknowingly happen to also be Francis’guvnors. Get it?

Alan Dangle (Daniel Rigby) is a wannabe actor in leather who hopes to marry the dim witted Pauline Clench (Claire Lams) who is unsoiled by education, like a new bucket!

Forget a 4th wall, as Corden involves the audience on several occasions, bringing various people on stage to do his deeds (one is a plant). He sometimes reminds me of Jackie Mason who delivers his artful jokes and keeps laughing at himself, which does become infectious to the audience.

Throughout the production, a Beatles-like 60s band “The Craze” (all Americans), dressed in skinny-suits, offer up some of Grant Olding’s tunes to support the mania. They were the best part for me. The caricature-like scenery is well designed by Mark Thompson, aided by Mark Henderson’s lighting. The all important physical comedy routines are directed by Cal McCrystal. Other notable cast members are Suzie Toase as Dolly the busty bookkeeper and Francis’ love interest; Martyn Ellis, Trevor Laird, Fred Ridgeway, Ben Livingston. It’s all happening at The Music Box Theatre on West 45th Street.

Photo: Joan Marcus