There were more than sides splitting at the Theatre Royal Haymarket last night as Rufus Hound’s official opening in One Man, Two Guvnors was capped by an unofficial – and unexpected – opening in a volunteer’s trousers.
The unfortunate audience member whose clothing tore as he tried to help Hound, as lead character Frances Henshall, shift a weighty trunk, was spared too much embarrassment by the comedian’s discretionary use of a jacket, but also gave the stand-up star turned West End actor a chance to shine as he revelled in his improvisational element.
“It’s ridiculously hard work,” Hound told Official London Theatre after the curtain had come down on his charging performance. “For the whole of this run, if I’m not on my way to work, at work or on my way home from work, I’m asleep or eating. That’s the only way I can deal with it.”
The comedian, best known for his appearances on a string of TV panel shows but disconcertingly unrecognisable without his signature facial hair, has only been starring on the London stage for a week, but has toured with the production for five months.
“There’s a degree to which you always want to be the best at everything you do,” he told us as we discussed stepping into a role originated by James Corden, who received an Olivier Award nomination and won a Tony Award for his performance. “It’s very hard when you’re taking over from someone who’s won a Tony. I realised it’s a fool’s journey to try and supersede something like that. All I can do is work harder than I’ve ever worked in my life to give the best version of it that I’m capable of. Based on the feedback I’ve had so far, I feel like I can walk around with my head held high. Part of me wants to ask ‘Am I better than James Corden?’ The other part thinks… ‘Tony’.”
Hound saw Corden star as Henshall, a sacked skiffle band member who sates his mountainous hunger by taking two jobs with two guvnors, all the while keeping them apart to conceal his secret. Back then, he thought the role was one a stand-up comedian could do “standing on their head. Having done it, I know that’s not the case. He was making it look a damn sight easier than it is.”
Judging from the laughter coming from last night’s audience, which included the mad scientist of the celebrity chef world Heston Blumenthal, Peep Show’s Robert Webb and DJ Sara Cox, everyone at the Theatre Royal Haymarket thought Hound was doing a fantastic job too, even the volunteer with a wardrobe malfunction, who grinned through any bashfulness.
The hit show, which was nominated for the MasterCard Best New Play Award at last year’s Olivier Awards, first opened at the National Theatre in 2011, where it proved so popular that it transferred to both the West End and Broadway. The comedy, which sees Henshall layer lie up on lie as he attempts to cover up his dual role, continues to be one of the hottest tickets in the West End, with Hound leading a cast that also includes Olivier Award nominee Kelly Price and Benidorm’s Hugh Sachs.