ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS
Richard Bean’s farcical comedy One Man, Two Guvnors is based on Carlo Goldoni’s 1746 Commedia Dell’ Arte piece The Servant of Two Masters. With James Corden in the lead role, followed by Owain Arthur, it was universally proclaimed outstandingly good.
Now, with a new cast, a mammoth ten-month tour has kicked off in Sheffield, featuring Gavin Spokes as main man, Francis Henshall.
Cleverly choreographed slapstick, plentiful playful patter, overacting, crackerjack silliness and fun plus an entire score of uplifting music come together in constantly changing variety, which keeps everything on a light, buoyant simmer throughout.
While smart suits and beautiful, bouncy frocks take us back to 1963, sets are light, bright, sunny and lavishly grand (-well, it is Brighton!), the extensive scene changes bringing a whole series of energetic musical interludes in front of curtain.
Accompanied by the four neat and be-suited mainstay musicians who are The Craze, actors perform innovative solos: vocals with ukulele, ladies in close harmony, some slappy (but not sloppy) chest percussion and tunes on steel drum, xylophone and a set of car horns.
The Craze ring more changes as we travel, before curtain-up, from Lonnie Donegan’s jaunty washboard era of slapped double bass and guitars, into polished Beatle-style harmonies, a breezy, upbeat mood maintained throughout thanks to Grant Olding’s award-nominated music.
The first act, longer and more intense than the second, has the audience in its pocket pretty quickly. Gavin Spokes’ endless hard work and jovial energy pay off for his version of Francis Henshall, the likeable idiot in chequered Mr Toad suit.
Via deliciously orchestrated involvement of “volunteers“ from the audience, he builds up a fine rapport, injecting comic relief into the more serious business of farce. His repartee and reactions to those who clamber onstage and take us outside the play for a while earn some of the biggest laughs.
Shaun Williamson proves a convincing stalwart as Charlie ‘the Duck’ Clench, while Patrick Warner does a pleasing job as posh boarding-school product – and murderer, Stanley. Diminutive Alicia Davies plays Rachel, masquerading more often than not as her own impossibly identical gangster brother Rosco and, taking in completely, in true Shakespearian style, all the other characters.
Emma Barton stands out as busty, sex on legs assistant, Dolly, especially when her Maggie Thatcher tones ring out as she pictures, twenty years in the future, the idea of a first woman Prime Minister, who surely could bring nothing but peace and harmony to one and all.
Audience favourite in the laughter stakes is Michael Dylan with his performance as Alfie, the octogenarian waiter. His exaggerated shakes and ridiculous incompetence work to hilarious effect, a perfect match, perhaps, for that Julie Walters waitress.
In some places and cases, slicker delivery, enunciation and/or timing will enhance the hilarity still further, but this is a well-balanced, energetic, light and happy piece that brings huge laughs.
Eileen Caiger Gray, Mature Times theatre reviewer
Images credit Johan Persson