Today is a celebration of laughter – and you CANNOT do better than this show streaming free from the National Theatre –

One Man Two Guvnors – REVIEW FROM 2012 by Tulis McCall

Oh my, my, my.  There is Joy in Mudville once again.  And more than that, there are moments in this play that are so funny you don’t just laugh, you bark.

There are a few things at which the Brits excel.  Tea, of course, but you have to be over there for it to taste right.  The other is humor, and that one is exportable.  I’m talking that stupid kind of humor.  That door opening stage right while door closes stage left humor (the kind that Lucy tried to make her own).  I’m talking the humor where the main character is off on an adventure of ludicrous proportions and decides to include us in on all his secrets, whether we like it or not.  Of course, this confidence sharing strategy is picked up by a few other characters as well who share the same philosophy.

In this case we like it.  We like it a lot.

When the leading man with the plummy voice (Oliver Chris as Stanley Stubbers) receives the news that the local pub also served food (in 1963 Brighton), he replies “Buzz-wam, whoever thought of that? Wrap his balls in bacon and send him to the nurse!” whereupon the gentleman in front of me three seats to my left laughed so hard that his head snapped fore and aft like a hand puppet operated by an amateur.

James Cordon as Francis Henshall – the MAN – does everything.  He toys with the audience.  Deceives his employers.  Pursues Dolly (Suzie Toase), a buxom woman with a mind like a calculator, the way a puppy goes after a bone.  As a young man washed up on the shore in downtown Brighton, Francis is on the look out for a meal – he has to keep his fat up – which means he needs a few bob with which to buy said meal.  He accepts a position with two different men, the aforementioned Stubbers and Roscoe Crabbe (Jemima Rooper).  The fly in the ointment is that Roscoe is actually his sister, Rachel, in disguise, and Rachel is in love with Stanley who has, incidentally, killed her brother Roscoe.  These two star-crossed lovers are frantic to find one another, but their common man Francis does everything he can to keep them apart so that his employment will remain steady.

Mixed in here is also the nearly fatal love story of Pauline Clench (Claire Lams) a sweet dim bulb who is in love with the world’s worst actor, Alan Dangle (Daniel Rigby).  Their fathers are old friends as well as counsel and client.  All are caught in the middle of the Crabbe deception because “Duck” Clench (Fred Ridgeway) owes Roscoe money, and Pauline has been thrown into the mix for good measure.  Just for the heck of it an 80 year old waiter, Alfie (Tom Edden) is added to the slapstick in case you don’t have enough to laugh at.  To top it all off, we are treated to musical interludes by the talented and stupidly charming band, The Craze, a kind of Beatles gone Country quartet.

And, perhaps unlike any other performance running in the city, the show succeeds most wildly when it comes to a screeching halt.  It is at those moments – and if you are lucky there will be a few – that Cordon steps up to the plate and takes on all comers: fish heads gone astray; the hoped for sandwich; a reticent audience member; and of course, the ubiquitous mobile phone serenade.  (This and the musical interludes are part of the reason that the show runs 2 hours and 30 minutes,)

Although Corden does stray off the path, way off the path, we always return to the thread of this story that is filled with equal parts true love, deceit, mistaken identity, pomp, sex, circumstance, music, and people being really, really silly.  The ensemble is fine-tuned and brilliant from start to finish.  This is humor that demands the actors fly from point to point without a net.  They make it look easy, which is how you know that their precision is flawless.

The result is that Two Guvnors makes you remember how long it has been since you laughed this hard because the experience is exciting and a bit foreign at the same time.  “Oh, right,” your body seems to say to you, “I remember this!  Why don’t we do THIS more!!”

I concur.  Send in the clowns, please.  Yesiree, please do.

One Man, Two Guvnors – By Richard Bean, based on “The Servant of Two Masters” by Carlo Goldoni; directed by Nicholas Hytner

WITH: James Corden (Francis Henshall), Oliver Chris (Stanley Stubbers), Jemima Rooper (Rachel Crabbe), Tom Edden (Alfie), Martyn Ellis (Harry Dangle), Trevor Laird (Lloyd Boateng), Claire Lams (Pauline Clench), Fred Ridgeway (Charlie Clench), Daniel Rigby (Alan Dangle), Suzie Toase (Dolly) and Ben Livingston (Gareth), and Eli James, Mr. Livingston, Sarah Manton, Stephen Pilkington, David Ryan Smith and Natalie Smith (Ensemble).

Physical comedy director, Cal McCrystal; designed by Mark Thompson; lighting by Mark Henderson; sound by Paul Arditti; songs by Grant Olding; associate director/choreographer, Adam Penford; music director, Charlie Rosen; production stage manager, William Joseph Barnes; technical supervisor, David Benken; technical producer, Katrina Gilroy; administrative producer, Robin Hawkes; general manager, James Triner. Presented by the National Theater of Great Britain under the direction of Mr. Hytner and Nick Starr, and Bob Boyett, National Angels, Chris Harper, Tim Levy, Scott Rudin, Roger Berlind, Harriet Newman Leve, Stephanie P. McClelland, Broadway Across America, Jam Theatricals, Daryl Roth, Sonia Friedman, Harris Karma Productions, Deborah Taylor and Richard Willis. At the Music Box Theater, 239 West 45th Street, Manhattan, (212) 239-6200, Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes.