One Man Two Guvnors, National Theatre Live, YouTube
As we fill our days with washing, watching television, doing jigsaws and not writing our blockbuster novels, one light in the isolation tunnel came from Thursday night's (Apr 2) One Man and Two Guvnors starring James Corden (above).
What a great idea of the National Theatre to offer us top entertainment for free in our own homes - perhaps it will encourage a future generation of theatre-goers.
As I fired up YouTube and began watching this 18th century Italian farce updated to the1960s my first thought was: "This won't be the one to win new friends and influence potential fresh audiences."
But then Corden appeared and the real comedy began.
Within minutes I'd forgotten I hated slapstick as he dragged hapless members of the audience up on stage - not all of them as innocent as first appeared - begged for sandwiches then improvised when someone offered him hummus. At least I think he was improvising.
Either way, we were all in on the joke. Because, of course, there wasn't much call for hummus among the petty criminals of Brighton back in 1963.
Corden plays Francis, a man who's told The Beatles they'll never make much of themselves, while Dolly, the woman of his dreams (Suzie Toase) teeters around against a backdrop of awful retro wallpaper and tells us of a dream of her own - that one day there'll be a woman prime minister and that under her the world will become caring and compassionate. Naturally the audience hoots with laughter.
The original script couldn't have been this much fun. Corden scuttles between his two bosses Stanley, a bonkers ex-public schoolboy (Oliver Chris having the time of his life), and cross-dressing Rachel (Jemima Rooper), and with the whole National Theatre ensemble working together, it is truly a feast of a farce.
Not surprisingly this is the role that firmly established the former History Boy and co-creator of Gavin and Stacey, as an indisputable star.
One Man Two Guvnors can be seen on YouYube until Wednesday April 8, when Jane Eyre starts a seven-day run.
For more details see our News page.
National's generosity is worthy of national applause, says Les Grafton
Having seen this production in Birmingham with the original cast when it toured, I willingly paid to see it again at the Royal Cinema in the Spa Centre, Leamington earlier this year when it was shown to celebrate the 10th anniversary.
The cinema was full and the audience loved it as they had during the theatrical run. This
production began James Corden’s rehabilitation to national treasure status after the post Gavin and Stacey hubris that led to some terrible career choices.
Whilst there is not the same frisson to a screening as there is to the live performance, the ability to view the actors’ faces close up and edits to reaction shots add to the enjoyment. The directors have refrained from trying to make the experience too cinematic and kept to the Proscenium view as much as possible.
In these troubled times when the Plague doctor is stalking the streets, the National Theatre’s decision to offer some of its National Theatre Live productions for a limited time, free on YouTube, is both generous and philanthropic.
Other theatres, galleries and institutions are following suit, including the Belgrade locally. More could follow, for example few people will have seen the Warhol or Beardsley exhibitions before lockdown and the works will have moved on before we are let out again. Surely a virtual tour is not beyond the Tate.
There have been many acts of generosity since the Covid 19 pandemic first appeared, mostly concerning the medical or physical needs of the population. The National has arrived to satisfy a deeper cultural need and we will all be the better for it.
The Tate responds to Les's criticism
*Les's call for the Tate to pull its finger out has brought an immediate response. The gallery points out that it is making available a filmed tour of the Warhol exhibition.
But at the moment only to Members. Our critic is mollified but not yet throwing his poisonous pencil into his Campbell Soup waste bin.
He promises to do so when the Tate makes the film free to all.
(Meantime, details of how you can join : https://www.tate.org.uk/join-support/tate-members)