Writer: Richard Bean
Music: Grant Olding
Original Director: Nicholas Hytner
Tour Director and Choreographer: Adam Penford
Reviewer: Janet Jepson
Seeing One Man, Two Guvnors without knowing anything about the show is probably the best way to approach it, because the element of surprise is inconceivable. The four piece skiffle band The Craze, playing pleasantly as the audience takes their seats, is entertaining, but gives no clue as to what is to come.
The performance starts sensibly enough as the main characters assemble in Charlie ‘the Duck’ (it’s a long story) Clench’s 1963 lounge, to celebrate the engagement of his daughter Pauline (“she’s pure, unsoiled by education, like a new bucket”) to ‘I want to be an actor’ Alan Dangle (an aptly-named lad if ever there was one). Then, bit by bit, the whole thing descends into such a riotous feast of satire, slapstick, silly songs and side-splitting one-liners that it would be totally impossible not to laugh out loud. To quote the old cliché, anyone watching has to fight hard not to ‘roll in the aisles’!
It’s a simple enough story – Francis Henshall is unemployed and so hard up that he’s fantasising about haddock and chips that he can’t afford – can he really have drunk those dregs? Imagine his joy when he lands not one job, but two, working on the one hand for posh Stanley Stubbers and cross-dressing Rachel/Roscoe Crabbe on the other. It can’t be that hard, can it? Filter in a complication about an accidental stabbing which alters the course of an arranged marriage and ruins family honour, and you have, well – mayhem.
The characters are amazingly funny. Gavin Spokes as Francis possesses incredible energy, and one wonders how he manages to throw himself around the stage so energetically night after night. His comedy timing is perfect; and his rapport with the audience is brilliant; (be warned there is audience participation, but maybe not to the extent everyone first thinks); and he seems a genuinely nice bloke. Maybe the next in line in ‘funniness’ is Michael Dylan playing Alfie, the 84 (or 86?) year old waiter. He’s a sort of merging together of Julie Walters’ waitress in the Victoria Wood sketch, and the old one-armed Irish waiter on TV’s Robin’s Nest. Did anyone ever realise that pacemakers were so effective before seeing this show?
Patrick Warner as Stanley Stubbers makes a wonderful public school-educated toff, complete with all the smutty reminiscences of what went off in the ‘dorms’, making everyone cringe and laugh in equal measure. Tough cookie Rachel Crabbe (aka Alicia Davies) spends most of the show suited and booted and impersonating her non-monoamniotic, but dead, twin Roscoe – but don’t worry, she explains it all clearly in layman’s terms! And is Edward Hancock, playing Alan Dangle, made of rubber? – must be just his legs …
The rest of the cast are all perfect too, from the immaculate Dolly (Emma Barton) to the efficient Lloyd with hisJamaicanaccent (Derek Elroy).
As is to be expected from an offering by The National Theatre, the sets and costumes are first rate – you could maybe paddle in the sea on Brighton front, and let’s pop into that nice pub, The Cricketers Arms. The suits are all smart: check for the funniest guy, sober stripes for the older chaps, and lovely dresses for the ladies. There are identical expensive looking trunks, rows of top drawer shirts to iron, and plenty of appetising-looking food to throw around. And when the trousers are down, the underwear’s Persil white.
Yes, One Man, Two Guvnors is a great show. At the end there’s an aura of disbelief. Did all that just take place? Was there so much laughing? It’s real British comedy at its British best; plenty of falling around, knocking people down, swing doors and with naughty bits encouraging teenage-type giggles thrown in. What’s not to like?
Runs until: Saturday 14 March 2015
EDITORS AMENDMENT: The Public Reviews would like to apologise for any offence caused by a previous phrase used in this review. It has since been replaced with a more suitable description.