|James Corden, in a war of choice with himself.|
While the result of all this pulling-faces malarkey is entirely agreeable, it doesn't have the tautness or slam-bang danger of true farce, or the dead-serious stakes of the best comedy. Its farcical machinations all come with a meta wink, and while it's a very engaging wink indeed, it doesn't hide the slackness in writer Richard Bean and director Nicholas Hytner's conception. It seems to me that a good Arlecchino, like a good Pseudolus or a good Scapin, should scheme and scamper like his ass could be beaten at any minute, and he ideally shouldn't relax (as neither should we) until all the plot's loose ends are improbably tied up. But the supremely confident lead actor Corden doesn't convey that alert desperation; instead, he's a nearly Apatovian figure of affable torpor, and if he breaks a sweat in that wonderfully mismatched three-piece suit, I didn't see it.
One might object that meta-farce is precisely what Hytner and co. are up to here—that the hair-raising jeopardy and confusion and humiliation typically visited on the characters in a bona fide farce are instead cleverly diverted to another target (and in a way that can't be revealed by any self-respecting member of the press). Fair enough, but this seems a poor substitute for truly setting the plates spinning out of control within the world of the play, which would be one way to sustain the momentum of a show that loses steam pretty quickly, and whose energy throughout noticeably flags nearly every time the action isn't being enlivened and annotated by Corden. Indeed, once the synthetic chaos of One Man's first act comes to a riotous close, the evening's quota of risk vanishes along with the air quotes. We're left with slick, hyper-competent, no-stakes, smile-worthy antics rather than comedy with flesh and blood in it—a sketch comedy simulacrum of farce, really.
Obviously, though, I'm in the minority.