This review is from December 2011.
The National's big hit starring James Corden has slimmed down for its West End transfer, but it is still a ton of fun.
Reliably outrageous writer Richard Bean has relocated Carlo Goldoni's Italian farce 'The Servant of Two Masters' to dodgy 1960s Brighton, where he has souped it up with puns, surrealism, drag, cockney dolls, cartoonish conmen, Benny Hill-style chases and lashings of slapstick, sadism and smut. The result is a sharply styled tribute to retro British comedy: the perfect get-away vehicle to escape the blues.
The plot has more funny turns than Tom Edden's show-stealing geriatric waiter-with-a-pacemaker. Director Nicolas Hytner makes Bean's play a joyride – with audience participation and a quiff-happy live skiffle band – lending it the ease of a variety show.
Corden plays Francis: a two-bit goon tying himself in knots to prevent the two bosses he's two-timing from finding out about each other. His real job is to compere the funny business, which he does with amazing dexterity, rolling round the stage like a barrel of laughs. He wins us over by being a plaintive everybloke with an impressively pointless bag of party tricks, like playing a high-speed xylophone solo in a fez or backflipping over an armchair to catch a peanut in his gob (credit to physical comedy director Cal McCrystal).
There are no weak links in Hytner's ensemble. Fred Ridgway is dismally funny as two-bit gangster Charlie 'the Duck' Clench; Jemima Rooper is fantastically gruff as Rachel Crabbe who, for reasons too complicated to explain, spends most of the show in a Ringo wig impersonating her dead brother.
Martyn Ellis is marvellous as aspiring actor Harry Dangle, stalking the postcard-bright streets of Brighton like a fey preying mantis. The lamppost-limbed Oliver Chris is sublime as S&M-loving posho Stanley Stubbers, Bean's subtlest caricature, drawling lines like 'First names are for girls and Norwegians' with patrician aplomb.
There are some brilliantly deranged bon mots: 'Love passes through marriage faster than shit through a small dog,' avers Charlie 'the Duck'. Less corpsing and more subtlety would perfect it but it remains a great night out: a knowing modern tribute to vintage end-of-the-pier fun.
By Matt Trueman
Average User Rating
3.1 / 5
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I saw this just before Christmas, a surprise present, and although I'd heard of the play I didn't know what to expect. I thought it was hilarious - a fine mix of traditional slap stick comedy, farce and modern stand-up, with a little bit of panto thrown it! The restaurant scene was fantastic and the actor playing Alfie did some amazing stunts. If you fancy an enjoyable fun evening, and a good laugh, go see this now!
Went to see this show last weekend on the recommendation of daughter and son-in-law who saw it in Australia and said they laughed from beginning to end so much that they were almost crying. Perhaps our expectation was too high because although parts were very funny - especially the middle scenes - we found other parts quite boring. I thought the two female actresses were awful, especially the one playing the fiancee but the main actors were all very good. I would recommend but with reservations.
Rufus Hound got loads of laughs in this afternoon's matinee performance - great audience interaction (even if most of them were stooges) and Martin Barrass as Alfie provided classic slapstick fun. Well worth the price of the tickets!
Alas for the National Theatre when this weak take on Goldoni's comedy is offered to theatregoers. However splendid and sparkling the original show may have been, this show is 'asleep at the wheel'. Direction seemed quite absent. Mr. Hound was profoundly unfunny and the surrounding cast did not seem adequate. I left after twenty minutes of misery.
An excellent cast, a hilarious script and great music. I have never laughed as much in the theatre. A real treat.
Agree with last poster. I was there tonight (Aug 30) and left halfway as well. I know comedy is subjective, but this is puerile. Which, I guess, means it will be popular. And what was with dragging that girl from the audience, only to douse her head to foot in fire extinguisher foam?! I presume they had her prior consent - I'd consider that assault.
Better than the last cast. Owain Arthur and his team have created a hilarious show with real theatrical presence and much greater clarity of diction and voice projection.