One of the biggest, and perhaps least likely smash hits to come out of the National Theatre in recent years, the West End transfer of Richard Bean’s gloriously pumped-up take on the Goldoni commedia dell’Arte classic is a sitter for the West End.
It has been shortened a bit, but has lost none of its freshness in this move across the Thames and zips along with its erstwhile vim and zeal. What seems so head smackingly, blindingly obvious, perhaps only when you see it in its new home, is what a great Christmas show it will make.
Because this updating of the classic story to 1960’s Brighton is in many respects a well-directed and classy pantomime, and its chief dame is the dazzling James Corden.
He is utterly brilliant as the unusually named Harlequin Francis Henshall, the “man” of the title and fulcrum of all the comic comings and goings. It would be hard to imagine anyone with a more confident command of a part than his, taking in the ad-libbing, the joshing, the complicated slapstick with aplomb. His best moment probably came in the first act when he fights himself, showing what a superb physical performer he is, and on the press night he handled some recalcitrant audiences members superbly.
Corden is also ably supported by everyone. Oliver Chris is excellent as the buffoonish toff Stanley Stubbers and Jemima Rooper is an engaging foil as the cross dressing heroine Rachel.
But it would be harder to imagine a funnier comic cameo than that delivered by Tim Edden’s Alfie, the geriatric, serving man whose misfortunes and capering around the stage had the audience in stitches.
As the final song has it – tomorrow looks good. And I think they are not wrong about that when it comes to this West End move. A hit or my name’s Francis Henshall.
Adelphi, London, November 8-February 25
- Richard Bean after Carlo Goldoni
- Nicholas Hytner
- National Theatre
- Cast includes
- James Corden, Jemima Rooper, Suzie Toase, Claire Lams, Oliver Chris, Tom Edden
- Running time
- 2hrs 40mins