One Man, Two Guvnors: How Funny, Really?

Richard Bean versus Carlo Goldoni in director Nicholas Hytner's British import

Therein lies the difference between One Man, Two Guvnors and The Servant of Two Masters. The former sees everything as an opportunity for a joke, but doesn’t feel any particular need to have the jokes come from somewhere or go somewhere; pretty much any joke at any time will suit its purpose. Hung out on the line of Goldoni’s story, which deals with specific people and goes from one specific event to the next, Bean's lengthy array of jokes ultimately makes the evening droop, like a clothesline hung with a load of wet wash. Even the intermittent songs, by Grant Olding, which give the show a cheerfully bouncy start, run steadily downhill, in a kind of vaudevillian desperation to keep the event in motion, throwing in a song done this way and a song done that way, when there’s no particular need for any songs at all, except to shift scenery or give Corden a break.

Brighton beach memoirs? Oliver Chris, Tom Edden, and James Corden
Joan Marcus
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One Man, Two Guvnors
By Richard Bean, after Carlo Goldoni’s Servant of Two Masters Music Box Theatre
239 West 45th Street

Corden works, as has been much noted, very hard and very skillfully. My principal quarrel with his performance may actually be with Hytner, or with the show’s overall tone: He doesn’t rouse me to much laughter because he knows he is being funny, and frequently tells you so. He grins way too often, at his own jokes and at those he sees coming from, or toward, others. For those who laugh when told that something’s funny, he may be the optimal clown for our time. But I suspect that our time contains a great many people who don’t laugh when told to do so—who, in fact, prefer to decide for themselves when and at what to laugh. What they laugh at will include plenty of low comedy, and plenty of British comedy; it just won’t include the instruction manual.

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