Starring James Corden. National Theatre Live. Selected Cinemas Nationally. July 7 and 8, 2012

If you saw the amazing James Corden win at this year’s Tony Awards (or if you’re a fan from Gavin and Stacey) you might have thought enviously, why don’t we get to see performances like that in theatre in Australia. Well of course we do. We have terrific actors in great productions……sometimes. But we don’t always get the biggest smash hits from the West End or Broadway. Now, thanks to the National Theatre Live initiative and Sharmill Films we can see the actual productions with the original casts. What a treat! And multiply that by 10 when the star is James Corden, surely one of the funniest and most lovable comic actors ever to grace a screen anywhere, at any time.

In this reworking of the Commedia dell'arte classic, A Servant of Two Masters, writer Richard Bean gives us a slapstick Tour de Farce whilst proving once again ( as with The Heretic) that he can’t construct a second act. But it doesn’t matter, we’re too euphoric from laughing to care. There’s nothing subtle about the play. Re-set in 1963 it loosely, yet in convoluted fashion, concerns Francis Henshall (Corden) who find himself simultaneously working for Rachel Crabbe ( posing as her “identical” twin brother) played by Jemima Rooper and her fiancée Stanley Stubbers ( Oliver Chris) – who is actually the man who killed her brother in the first place. Then there’s Pauline (Claire Lambs) who wants to marry would-be actor Alan ( hysterically played by Daniel Rigby) but can’t because she has to marry the dead gangster who is played by his sister who just happens to be Pauline’s best friend. And then…..oh never mind, just laugh!

Director Nicholas Hynter fills the stage with so much slapstick I almost expected pies in the face before interval. It’s heart-stoppingly, gut-achingly funny – and the addition of an octogenarian waiter Alfie (Tom Edden)  pushes it over the top in the manner of Freddie Frinton’s immortal “Dinner for Five”. The scene changes are covered by music from the period with a great group called The Craze, and some extra appearances by the cast. It’s totally satisfying theatre and you forget you are sitting in a cinema except for the poor quality of the “live” sound. See it if you possibly can….you won’t be sorry. Sharmill will continue to bring us great theatre on the “Big Screen” – Its next offering being Christopher Plummer’s award winning performance in Barrymore on August 25th and 26th. Now you can be a “live” theatre goer and still take your popcorn – or even your knitting! – in with you.

Coral Drouyn

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