IN line with the conventions of Commedia dell’Arte, the 16th Century style of stage sitcom on which this play is based, the pivotal character here is actually more of a secondary straight man than show-stealing frontman.
Which is something of a surprise given the buzz which heralded One Man,Two Guvnors on the start of its UK tour. After its London debut with an unexpectedly brilliant performance from James Corden as central protagonist, Francis Henshall, expectations were raised and audiences’ minds were open to the idea that Rufus Hound might win us over just as convincingly.
And, to be fair, the star of stand-up and TV panel shows, doesn’t do too bad a job in the lead role. But neither the actor, nor the part, hog any limelight. Instead a host of other characters spin an hilarious web of farce and one liners around Hound.
Edward Bennett is consummate as Stanley Stubbers, the upper class cad who becomes one of Henshall’s two guvnors. Every scene he features in represents a masterclass in comic panache. Leon Williams as shunned lover and actor Alan Dangle is almost as divine, as is Amy Booth-Steel as wannabe feminist, Dolly. But gold star for physical comedy goes to Peter Caulfield as Alfie, the decrepit waiter who’s constantly battered from pillar to post.
The storyline, a formulaic mix of mistaken identity and ludicrous coincidences, may be based on the seminal 18th century play A Servant of Two Masters by Carlo Goldoni, but any narrative is essentially ancillary. It is just a skeletal plot on which director Nicholas Hytner and writer Richard Bean have applied comedy meat to the bones.
That said, not every line is a gut-buster, the quality of delivery sometimes varies between actors and it’s definitely a slow start. But, by and large, One Man, Two Guvnors is a terrific hoot presented by an immensely talented cast.
To Saturday, Leeds Grand Theatre, New Briggate, Leeds, 7.30pm, Thursday and Saturday matinees 2.30pm, £15 to £31, www.leedsgrandtheatre.com