One Man, Two Guvnors

Feb 18 2015 | By More

✭✭✭✩✩    Fun physicality

Festival Theatre: Tues 17 – Sat 21 Feb 2015

Retaining much of its crowd-pleasing power but decidedly lacking in freshness, One Man, Two Guvnors remains an intriguing blend of comedy, music and pure panto, but has become less compelling with age.

Francis Henshall, sacked from his skiffle band, takes on a job as minder to notorious gangster Roscoe Crabbe. Except Roscoe has been murdered and it’s his sister Rachel, pretending to be Roscoe. Henshall then takes on a second job, working for toff Stanley Stubbers, who turns out to be the one who killed Roscoe – and Rachel’s boyfriend…

Emma Barton and Gavin Spokes. Photo: Jonah Persson

Emma Barton and Gavin Spokes. Photo: Jonah Persson

Carlo Goldoni’s 1756 comedy has been reworked before, of course, notably into Scots by Victor Carin as The Servant o Twa Maisters, which launched the Lyceum company under Tom Fleming in 1965.

Richard Bean’s version for the London National Theatre has also been a notable success, particularly as a vehicle for James Corden as Henshall. Nicholas Hytner’s direction is now nearly four years old, and although Adam Petford is credited as ‘tour director’ most of what happens seems to be from the original production.

With this production now starting to show its age, however, there must been some question as to whether the adaptation itself is entirely successful. The decision to update the story only as far as 1963 Brighton covers a multitude of sins – notably, it provides an easy get-out for a whole series of jokes relying on stereotypes that would look uncomfortably out of place in a more modern setting.

There is a decidedly nostalgic air to the whole thing, evoking half-remembered notions of Carry On or Donald McGill postcards. However, the real Carry Ons had a lot more rigour and McGill much more sparkle. Lacking a barnstorming central performance to hold it together, this version is starting to look decidedly creaky.

real physical gifts

That is not to say that Gavin Spokes is inadequate as Henshall. He is a skilful actor with some real physical gifts. However, he never really seems to make the role his own – in particular, some of the pantomime-style, supposedly spontaneous audience interaction comes across as stilted.  As a result, it is difficult to invest much care in his predicament.

Mark Thompson’s set is beautifully evocative of 1963Brighton. Photo Jonah Persson

Patrick Warner, Derek Elroy and Alicia Davies. Photo Jonah Persson

The big, farcical set-piece at the end of the first half still works extremely well, as Henshall attempts to serve both of his bosses a meal at the same time. This is helped in no small part by Michael Dylan as the aged, put-upon waiter Alfie. Dylan’s timing and physical clowning are both spot on and provide the evening’s biggest laughs.

The rest of the cast also put in a commendable amount of effort, considering some of the roles amount to very little. There is very little danger of anyone underplaying, and if there are some uncertainties of tone as a result, there is no shortage of fun. Patrick Warner (Stanley) and Edward Hancock (young lover and would-be actor Alan) are both gratifyingly ludicrous, while Alicia Davies not only provides humour as Rachel, but is just about convincing enough as a male impersonator to stop the whole play falling apart.

EastEnders stalwarts Shaun Williamson and Emma Barton, as scrap metal dealer Charlie Clench and his bookkeeper Dolly, are the two most familiar performers to the vast majority of the audience, but in reality have little to do compared to many of the others.

Mark Thompson’s set is beautifully evocative of Brighton, while the sprightly musical interludes, both on and off stage, featuring 60s-styled band The Craze, add greatly to the atmosphere. There is still more than enough here to attract audiences, but the feeling persists that the production may be nearing its natural end.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (including interval)
Festival Theatre, 13/29 Nicolson Street EH8 9FT
Tuesday 17 – Saturday 21 February 2015
Evenings at 7.30 pm, Thursday and Saturday matinee at 2.30 pm

Full details and tickets at:

One Man, Two Guvnors on tour 2015:
17 Feb – 21 Feb 2015 Edinburgh
Festival Theatre
0131 529 6000 Book online
24 Feb – 28 Feb 2015 Oxford
New Theatre
0844 871 3020 Book online
2 March – 7 March 2015 Wimbledon
New Wimbledon Theatre
0844 871 7646 Book online
10 March – 14 March 2015 York
Grand Opera House
0844 871 3024 Book online
17 Mar – 21 Mar 2015 Wolverhampton
Grand Theatre
01902 429 212 Book online


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