Writer: Richard Bean
Music: Grant Olding
Director: Nicholas Hytner
Reviewer: Glen Pearce
As theatre up and down the country ring to the sound of Pantomime, it is perhaps appropriate that audiences are also reveling in an updated commediadell’arte, the forerunner of pantomime. Not that those enjoying One Man, Two Guvnors would probably realise that’s what they’re watching – Richard Bean’s sparkling script gives a fresh take on Carlo Goldoni’s 1746 The Servant of Two Masters.
Bean’s masterstroke is to transpose the action to 1960s Brighton, a period when class and gender divide is beginning to break down.
Francis Henshall, the atypical chancer on the lookout for a free meal, ends up working for not one, but two bosses. It’s a double life that would confuse many but Henshall isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer and the tangled web he begins to weave soon trips him up. Can he stay one step ahead of his employers?
The genre’s links to pantomime are deeper than the jokes, however. Audience participation, slapstick and direct audience address all feature heavily in Nick Hytner’s energetic production. It all looks deceptively haphazard but there’s real skill needed to be able to perform this material with polish and flare.
Stepping into shoes originally filled by James Corden, comedian Rufus Hound proves to be an adept stage performer. His stand-up pedigree obviously helps with the improvisation and audience interaction but Hound also impresses with his physicality. His is perhaps a more subtle Henshall than either Cordan’s or predecessor Owain Arthur but it makes the rôle more three dimensional.
It would however be unfair to suggest this is a one character vehicle and there’s strong support throughout the company. Amy Booth-Steel’s busty Brighton Belle Dolly, Rosie Wyatt’s cross dressing gangster Rachel and Kelly Shirley’s ultimate dumb blonde Pauline, all giving impressive performances.
Giving Hound a run for his money in the comedy stakes however is Peter Caulfield’s octogenarian waiter, Alfie. A masterclass in how to ratchet up the farce physicality, Caulfield delivers a truly mesmerising performance.
Hytner’s production also cleverly integrates Grant Olding’s music for skiffle band The Craze into the action, punctuating scene changes with affectionate nods to the music of the era.
If there’s any fault with the production it’s in its structure. Bean packs so much comedy in the first half, culminating in a side-splitting dining room scene, frpm which the second half suffers slightly in comparison. The feat of comedy in the first act leave characters slightly a loss for progression in the second act. It’s a minor quibble, however, in an otherwise outstanding evening of comedy.
There aren’t many productions that has an audience in hysterical laughter from start to finish. If you want a grown-up alternative to panto this festive season you’d be hard pushed to find a finer show than this.