The enduring popularity of ‘One Man Two Guvnors’ by Richard Bean, following it’s 2011 debut at the National Theatre, must surely be down to hitting the British sense of humour square on the nose. It has had three UK tours, one international tour and a stint on Broadway, and is now presented by Derby Theatre, in a co-production with Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch. It is a farce of the highest order, with slapstick, audience involvement and more than a hint of nudge-nudge wink-wink, a sort of pantomime for all year round.
Based on Goldoni’s Master of Two Servants, from the 18th Century, the story has been updated and set in 1963 Brighton. Francis Henshall is our unlikely hero, an everyman who simply wants to earn enough for a slice of bread. Or a bag of chips. With a fish on the side, and mushy peas, and a steaming pile of custard …. He’s unemployed, hungry and food obsessed. In his desperation, he manages to get employed by two people at the same time, who he then tries to keep happy. Along the way, there are gangsters, dimwits, an ‘actor’, a feminist book-keeper, some cross-dressing for disguise, and an octogenarian, athletic waiter, amongst others.
David O’Reilly plays Henshall, and does so with huge energy and great delight. It is a physically very demanding role, especially when his double life rebounds back on himself in a one-on-one punch up. But it must also be exhausting, and to add on audience interaction, which inevitably involves some improvisation, it must be difficult to keep track of where one is. A stray meatball threatens to upset the equilibrium on press night but as a true professional he keeps going.
The first ‘master’ is Roscoe Crabbe (Alice Frankham), actually Rachel Crabbe in disguise, who makes the most of exaggeratedly masculine movements and statements to convince of her manliness. The second ‘master’ is Stanley Stubbers, a virtual caricature of a public school boy, with some of the most absurd, and funniest, lines in the play. George Kemp is Stubbers, and clearly relishes the opportunity to inhabit this over-the-top fellow.
The comedia dell’arte style, on which the original Goldoni play was based, involves masked ‘types’, and none is presented more directly than Alan Dangle, ‘Actor’, by real-life actor Jack Brett. With over-expressive arms, lunging movements and flowery language, he represents all that traditional notions of an actor involve, and must have had great fun creating this in rehearsal. There is much humour in his effusive declarations to his fiancé, Pauline, a typecast blonde of little brain, convincingly portrayed by Samantha Hull.
The pace and broader humour builds to a crescendo with the introduction of Alfie, the aforementioned ancient waiter. TJ Holmes is athletically physical, throwing himself up and down stairs, walking into doors and precariously sloshing tureens of soup. These gags come thick and fast, until the majority of the audience are roaring with laughter, and Ian Stapleton as Physical Comedy and Fight Director must have found this a challenging, but satisfying, role to undertake.
The set created for this production, by Neil Irish, with lighting by Tim Skelly, is excellent. It has the feel of an end-of-pier show, and being set in Brighton, reflects the ‘post-card’ humour involved. It cleverly folds and reveals, and has a wonderful 3D quality, whilst still retaining a delightful naivety. Like those seaside variety shows, there are also short interludes featuring The Rozzers, a skiffle band, who maintain the energy levels between scenes, thanks to Musical Director Kevin Towse.
Sarah Brigham’s direction keeps One Man Two Guvnors pacey and fresh, with the many one-liners given space to breathe, and the energetic gymnastics of the cast carefully choreographed to maximum effect. There is long and loud laughter from the audience, who clearly enjoy the old-fashioned humour.
From this affectionately and brilliantly done Derby Theatre production I am sure this audience were belly-laughing all the way home.
Why not check out our East Midlands Theatre exclusive interview below with One Man, Two Guvnors cast members David Cardy, Rosie Strobel and Jack Brett.
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