One Man Two Guvnors, Owain Arthur

I didn’t think the National’s production of One Man Two Guvnors  could be bettered. I am delighted to say I was wrong: the new incarnation at the Haymarket surpasses the comic heights of the original, and provides a truly wonderful evening’s entertainment.

Owain Arthur, stepping into James Corden’s role as the ever-hungry Francis, was always going to have big shoes to fill – and fill them he did. Comparisons with Corden’s brilliant and likeable Francis are inevitable, and, if pushed, I’d say that Arthur just pips Corden to the post. Arthur’s tumbling, ad libbing and comic timing were superb, and he mugs fantastically when things don’t go quite to plan: “this is the glittering lights of London’s West End, not panto!” he cries at one point. He’s right, but the constant wry asides to the audience, the fart jokes and the brilliantly choreographed slapstick all owe a certain something to the antics of a panto. This is slicker than the average panto but it wears its mastery lightly; it never feels too clever or over-rehearsed, rather the comedy often comes from the slight air of unpredictability hovering over proceedings – and flickering across Arthur’s mobile face.

Ben Mansfield is blissfully funny as Stanley, a man so posh as to be almost incomprehensible. He expostulates frequently and nonsensically – “Oh, soggy biscuits!” – and is an absolute master of the double entendre. And the single entendre, come to that. It’s not often one hears talk of ahem, “buggering the dolphin” on a night out… Mansfield’s Stanley does not make boarding school sound like a whole lot of fun. Mansfield has the gift of the ad-lib, reducing Arthur to helpless giggles at least twice, and his nonsensical witterings left me crying with laughter.

Richard Bean’s script is still sharp, although it relies a little too heavily on the talents on the cast to keep the laughs coming, and it barrels along at quite a pace despite coming in at nearly three hours. The music, provided by skiffle band ‘The Craze’ and various cast members, is perfect; it manages to be evocative of the setting (1960s Brighton) while remaining witty and musically interesting. Snazzy purple suits, too. Jodie Prenger, of I’d Do Anything fame, has a lovely voice which she is not given enough chance to use, and enviable curves which she is given slightly too many chances to wriggle. Her singing is rather better than her acting, but she puts in a decent turn as Arthur’s love interest and sassy women’s-libber.

This production feels like more of a team effort than the run at the National; although Arthur is superb, he is matched by the other talents onstage and works with them. Again, Mansfield is particularly brilliant – the two men stand out in a strong cast. This is a blissfully funny evening, and one I cannot recommend highly enough. Go.

One Man Two Guvnors is currently booking at the Haymarket Theatre until 1 September.