Writer: Richard Bean
Director: Adam Penford
Reviewer: Angela Wilson
It’s been the National Theatre’s biggest hit of recent years, with enormously successful runs in both the West End and on Broadway, and this week One Man Two Guvnors starts a second UK tour at Curve in Leicester. Writer Richard Bean has based his play on Carlo Goldoni’s 1743 comedy The Servant of Two Masters, transferring the action from 18th century Venice to 1963 Brighton, and giving the commedia dell’arte classic a modern and very British makeover.
Francis Henshall is down on his luck. He’s been sacked from his skiffle band and doesn’t know where his next square meal is coming from. But gangster Roscoe Crabbe is in a spot of bother and Francis becomes his minder. And when Stanley Stubbers too is in need of somebody to look after him, Francis is the man for the job again. The trouble is, he must keep his two employers apart, and he gets so terribly confused at the best of times. Throw in further complications – it’s twin sister Rachel in disguise masquerading as her dead brother Roscoe, murdered by Stanley, who also happens to be Rachel’s boyfriend – and misunderstandings and mayhem are bound to follow.
The entertainment begins before the curtain goes up as four piece “beat combo” The Craze set the mood with sixties style tunes, reminiscent of Lonnie Donegan, The Shadows and The Beatles. Indeed, the music (composed by Grant Olding) is a major feature throughout the play and especially entertaining are the short interludes as the scenery changes, where members of the cast sing and play a variety of instruments, both conventional and less conventional. The set, cleverly designed by Mark Thompson, changes swiftly between seafront terraces, the Clench family sitting room with its fabulously 1960’s decor, the dingy interior of the Cricketers Arms pub, and Brighton pier.
The acting is excellent across the whole of this large ensemble, although I’d give special mention Kellie Shirley, who makes Pauline the dumbest of dumb blondes, with her perpetual whine “I don’t understaaaaand”, while Edward Bennett’s Stanley is the densest of upper-class twits. Peter Caulfield brings the house down in the relatively minor part of Alfie, the aged and decrepit waiter who’s on the receiving end of much of the physical slapstick humour. The rôle of Francis is pivotal, scheming yet naive, greedy but likeable – it was written specifically for James Corden, surely a hard act to follow. However, Rufus Hound steps up to the challenge and gives a terrific performance, with an easy charm and great audience rapport.
Bean’s play retains many elements of the Goldoni original – the plot is fundamentally similar and there are many recognisable commedia stock characters – but he marries this with a more British comedy tradition. There’s split second timed farce, cross-dressing, knockabout slapstick and slightly saucy, seaside postcard, Carry On style humour. It’s a brilliantly successful combination, and this production is a delight, hilariously entertaining from start to finish. A thoroughly enjoyable evening at the theatre.
Runs until 3rd November 2012
Picture: Tristram Kenton