One Man, Two Guvnors
Admin | 07 Oct 2016 15:51pm
Photo: Seb Roberts
Taking The West End and Broadway by storm a few years ago, “One Man Two Guv’nors” is the farcical comedy from the pen of Richard Bean, updating the Carlo Goldoni play “Servant of Two Masters.” It is (according to the programme) “a heady mix of farce, slapstick, pantomime and music.” Since being released for amateur rights, it has been a popular play for societies to tackle, and I have now seen a few versions of this play performed on the am dram circuit. My job is not to compare them, and I’m not going to, but I find it very interesting to see the very different takes that directors and actors have on it.
So, to the SEDOS version, performed at the Bridewell Theatre. I have seen quite a lot of SEDOS productions over the last few years, and their shows are of a consistent excellent quality. They are undoubtedly a collection of extremely talented directors, actors and performers. One Man Two Guv’nors upheld that high expectation and did not disappoint; the show was of professional standard with even the smallest parts giving consistent high quality performances.
This production focused very much on the physical comedy of the piece. So often, this element of the play can be overlooked or squeezed in as an afterthought, but in this script, there is plenty that can be drawn out to hilarious effect with the right direction and able actors. Director Alex Baker should be congratulated on bringing this out, and staging a lively, slick piece of comedy.
I absolutely loved the set. The set is a tricky one for this piece. Not only do set changes occur pretty much at the end of every scene under music, The Bridewell has quite minimal stage and wing space, which can make a challenging space to dress. Set designer Robert J. Stanex has done an impressive job. The set, while reasonably minimal, conveys each scene effectively and meant changes could be done quickly and smoothly. A multi-layer rostrum at the back, lit from within added some depth to the action.
The show opens with a trio of singers in the style of the 60s girl groups such as The Supremes. These glamourous ladies popped up at the start of the two acts, performing 60s classics such as “My Boyfriend’s Back” and “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow”. They added a touch of elegance and class to proceedings, backed by a tight 4 piece band under direction of MD Ed Curry and delivering gorgeous harmonies. It was just a shame that we did not see more of them throughout the show. If I had one criticism, it was that they were sometimes out of time with their movements, or one would gesticulate independently of the others. With this type of formation choreography, it is most effective when the performers are in total sync at all times.
The lead role of Francis Henshall the hapless “One Man” of the title was played by Rick Woska. This is a challenging role for an actor, requiring the ability to deliver sharp, pacey dialogue, engage with the audience, and perform some complicated slapstick. A loveable buffoon, the audience needs to be onside, egging him on through his complicated dealings with both guv’nors. In this Rick certainly delivered; a bundle of energy that engaged with audience with friendly enthusiasm. His fight with himself was a highlight of the show and very well executed.
The play has some well-defined characters and the cast clearly had a lot of fun bringing out the caricatures contained within them. Sam Pearce and Sophie Platts-Martin had the audience in stitches as wannabe “act-or” Alan and his dim-witted fiancé Pauline. Natalie Harding-More as the sassy Dolly, Francis’ love interest, really came into her own in the second act as with her verbal sparring with Francis as well and a tongue-in-cheek speech about the future with women at the helm of politics.
The character of Lloyd, usually a male role, was played by a very feminine Jamila Jennings-Grant. Having this part played by a woman didn’t detract from the story and pretty much, it worked fine, though the audience might have been a bit baffled how a woman managed to end up in Parkhurst, an all-male prison.
The character of Stanley Stubbers, a stereotypical foppish British aristocrat was given a “Tim-Nice-Dim” styling by Theo Leonard. He resisted making the character too large, which can be easy to do, allowing the dialogue to work for itself, and the audience to catch some more of its comic subtleties. A polished, comedic performance.
Carly Garrod took on the role of Stanley’s intended Rachel Crabbe, who spends the majority of the play in disguise as her dead brother Roscoe. I really liked Carly’s characterisation in this part, there was a clear and marked difference between the impersonation of a hardened gangster and the woman she really is.
There was also some nice support in the smaller roles; Darren Hannant as old school gangster and Pauline’s father Charlie The Duck, Dennis Fadil as Alan’s father and Charlie’s slippery solicitor Harry Dangle, Mark Smith as deadpan waiter Gareth and Paul Caira filling in the additional roles of taxi driver, barman and policeman all turned in strong, developed performances.
However, the absolute star or the night was David Miller as octogenarian waiter Alfie, played hilariously as a cross between Mr Bean and Steptoe. Despite the fact Alfie is meant to be a doddery old codger, it is arguably the most physically demanding of the parts as poor Alfie is hit in the face with a cricket bat, pushed down the stairs, picked up and pulled about, as well as being at the mercy of an over exerted pacemaker. Upholding the best tradition of slapstick physical comedy, it was a genius performance and a lesson in how it’s not so much time you are on stage, but more what you do with that time.
Overall the audience had a fantastic, hilarious evening of entertainment. Is it the deepest, most thought-provoking play you’ll ever see? No, but there is no complaint from me for that. “One Man Two Guv’nors” brings together some of the most enjoyable aspects of live theatre and with such a strong, accomplished cast, you are in safe hands if you want an amusing, entertaining night out.
Photo: Seb Roberts