A co-production with Queens Theatre, Hornchurch
ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS
by Richard Bean
based on “The Servant of Two Masters” by Carlo Goldoni
Directed by Sarah Brigham
7 - 28 September 2019
Review by Mike Wheeler
For those new to Richard Bean's update of Goldoni's eighteenth-century original, One Man, Two Guvnors centres on put-upon Francis Henshall, employed by – a) Stanley Stubbers, who has murdered crook Roscoe Crabbe, and b) Crabbe's twin sister Rachel, who has assumed Roscoe's identity and, awkwardly, is also Stubbers' girlfriend. They are both staying at the same Brighton hotel, and Francis has to keep up some frantic ducking and weaving to prevent the two from meeting and his cover being blown.
The potential for farce is obvious, but farce is probably my least favourite theatrical genre – pratfalls and slapstick rarely engage my funny bone. Of course, a huge amount of work is needed to pull it off, in terms of nanosecond timing and sheer physical energy, and you can't fault the cast or the direction of this new staging on either count.
No, the problem is the play itself. It may be set in 1963, but that's no excuse for such tired, dated jokes. When a line like “You're a bit of a twat” gets one of the biggest laughs of the evening you know you've hit rock-bottom, while doddery old waiter Alfie (TJ Holmes) falling downstairs isn't funny the first time, never mind five more.
I wasn't expecting subtle characterisation, but some of the people on stage are barely even one-dimensional. David O’Reilly is an undeniably hard-working but persistently whiny-voiced Francis. Samantha Hull's incessantly shrill Pauline, Jack Brett as her posturing wannabe actor boyfriend Alan Dangle, and George Kemp's monotone Stanley Stubbers simply defied credibility. So all credit to David Cardy as Pauline's dad, Charlie, and Rosie Strobel as Dolly, his bookkeeper, who inhabit their roles with little need for grotesque exaggeration, Alice Frankham's plausible male impersonation as Rachel/Roscoe, and Duane Hannibal's sympathetic Lloyd Boateng.
Comparing this production with what I remember from the live relay of the National Theatre original, this seems to be pretty much a carbon-copy, including the fake banter with supposed members of the audience, even down to the hummus sandwich gag.
A skiffle group (remember them?), The Rozzers, plays on stage as we arrive and covers scene changes and, to be honest, I enjoyed their contribution more.
To be fair, most of the audience lapped it up. There's no denying it's a sure-fire crowd-pleaser, but I'll just tip-toe out, if its all the same to you.
Cast: Craig Armstrong, Roberto Boyle, Jack Brett, Dylan Bull, David Cardy, Megan Clark, Alice Frankham, Duane Hannibal, TJ Holmes, Samantha Hull, George Kemp, Karen Lawley, David O'Reilly, Ivan Stott and Rosie Strobel.
Running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes (including interval)