You can’t go out so might as well give James Corden a go

With staying in being the old going out, the National Theatre is putting a different past production on YouTube each week. You can’t go to the theatre, but the theatre can come to you.

Using Google glue to mend punctured memory, here are some shows I saw at the National Theatre in the early to mid-1980s.

What must have been the first was Warren Mitchell in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. That was in 1979, apparently, which I refuse to believe.

Other shows attended, chewed biro in hand, included Richard Eyre’s production of Guys and Dolls, David Hare’s savage Fleet Street satire Pravda, and Michael Gambon starring in Miller’s A View From The Bridge, a revival directed by Alan Ayckbourn (it says here).

Ayckbourn’s own play Way Upstream, set in a floating boat as designed by Bill Dudley, proved problematic, springing a leak that flooded the Lyttelton Theatre. Another play to stick in mind was David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross, and the promenade production of The Mysteries.

I saw these plays, and much more besides, on behalf of the lucky readers of the South East London Mercury. Under the guise of being a theatre critic, I skirted the theatrical fringes with the likes of Michael Billington. I saw many plays and once saw Lilly Allen’s dad Keith strip naked for a laugh (that’s another hairy story).

Other theatres were available, as was the pub. Life was a pub/theatre seesaw back then.

These fragments floated back after watching James Corden in One Man, Two Guvnors. Now if I told you to watch this, you might not thank me. But, honestly, you really should give it a go, even if you struggle with Corden.

This is an English adaptation of Servant of Two Masters, an Italian comedy of 1743 by Carlo Goldoni.

It’s also a tremendously funny, daft and gloriously stupid updating by Richard Bean, with Corden excelling as the put-upon hungry man who lands two jobs at the same time.

Bean sets his production in Brighton in 1963, and it’s all very rock’n’roll with a band on stage.

The plot has a glancing resemblance to those Shakespeare comedies where boys are girls and girls are boys, and love is lost and found again. But the plot hardly matters, other than as a contrivance to keep the farcical action in the air.

The set-pieces are furiously funny, and in one extended sequence a woman from the audience ends up being much abused, set on fire and covered in extinguisher foam. And, yes, Christine Patterson is a plant, as by tradition there’s always an audience member called that. Kosher members of the audience are also pulled into the action; at least they seemed real enough.

Bean made a success of adapting this old Italian comedy, but he wasn’t the first to have a go.

Blake Morrison served up his version, The Man With Two Gaffers, in a production with York Theatre Royal and Northern Broadsides. When I knew him, Blake Morrison lived in a flat in the walls of Greenwich Park. He was the literary editor of the Observer and I interviewed him about his poetry. Shortly after that, he put me in touch with the Observer and I started three years of shifts, that only ended when York called.

Anyway, do give One Man, Two Guvnors a go before Wednesday night. You won’t regret it. Take that from one man who used to pretend to be a theatre critic.

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