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Rating: ****

National Theatre, London (2011) 

Summary: Wonderfully funny updating of Italian farce

Farce is an odd bird. It’s always pushes one’s tolerance of ‘that could never happen’ to its extreme. Get it right and you have a glorious, tongue in cheek, laugh a minute caper. Get it wrong and you have a silly, immature and potentially downright stupid story. And what’s worse, in farce, the line between the former and latter is ever so slim.

The National’s production of OM2G is, for the most, firmly placed in the former category, delivering a delightful mix of farce, physical comedy, music and even audience participation.

The story is a reworking of a comedia dell’arte play ‘The servant of two masters’, but now placed in 1950s Brighton. The lead character (wonderfully played by James Corden) has, as we very soon find out, an insatiable hunger and preoccupation with food.

He’s the bodyguard for an east end gangster on the run and currently out of money. Worse still, he doesn’t get paid until the end of the week, so a fair few days of no food, unless he can sot something our. Lo and behold, an opportunity to work as an assistant for another Brighton visitor pops up, and he will give him money up front. So, he now becomes the servant to two masters… and so the farce kicks off.

It has all the elements you’d expect from a decent face; mistaken identity, misplaced item, confusion, mishaps and chaos. It also gives each of the main characters a tune to perform, done while the scenes are being changed, and accompanied by a skiffle band (who also play in the intermission and at the beginning of the show).

The design, both the sets and costumes, are ably suited to the production, giving a great sense of the period and the location. The direction is tight and very well paced.

The cast is all very capable but it is James Corden who really shines here. He brings a glorious energy and cheekiness to the role that seems to drive the rest of the production. It does, on a few occasions, spill into the ludicrous, but those are few and far between. And when it does happen, you’re so carried away by the rest of the production, that you don’t even care.

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