Since I first heard of the National Theatre’s production of Richard Bean’s farcical masterpiece One Man, Two Guvnors, based on Carlo Goldoni’s classic The Servant of Two Masters, I was very excited, but sadly didn’t get the opportunity to see it. Now, about four years after its premiere, the National Theatre has set to work again and brought it back to life for a national tour. Directed by Adam Penford after originally being by directed by Nicholas Hytner, and featuring a fantastic skiffle band, I couldn’t wait to pop into the Grand Opera House York to see the show.
The story of One Man, Two Guvnors is pretty much in the title; it follows the tale of an ever-hungry man named Francis Henshall (Gavin Spokes) who moves down to Brighton after being offered work by gangster Roscoe Crabbe (Alicia Davies). But actually, Roscoe Crabbe isn’t who Francis thinks he is – it’s actually his twin sister Rachel, whose boyfriend Stanley Stubbers (Patrick Warner) killed Roscoe in a fight, and both must keep away from the ‘rozzers’ on the lookout for him. So what does Francis do? He goes and gets another job working for Stanley. This is where the fun begins – Francis needs to keep both of his masters apart so they don’t realise what he’s actually doing: fleecing them and earning more dosh for more haddock and mushy peas. But that’s a bit difficult when both of your masters are staying at the same pub… Add into the mix a dysfunctional family, consisting of corrupt solicitor Harry Dangle (David Verrey) and his son, an absolute wannabe-stereotypical actor Alan (Edward Hancock) along with his love interest Pauline Clench (Jasmyn Banks), her father Charlie (Shaun Williamson) and the family servant Dolly (Emma Barton) and you’ve got yourself a recipe for an awesome play.
So it’s a pretty simple yet meaty plot that Bean’s adapted from Goldoni, but it’s brilliant. We clearly get the impression that it’s 1963 through the production’s brilliant scenography, ranging from its simple and clear set design to the classic rock and roll music played by the skiffle band before the show starts, during scene transitions and the interval. This helps to keep the space fresh, energised and an enjoyable place to be, and it makes the theatre a place where there really isn’t any time for boredom.
I credit the skiffle band for contributing that special something to the piece, but the real jewels are the brilliant characters. The whole company work very well as an ensemble and all look to take great delight in portraying their well-developed characters, and this allows them to execute Bean’s hilariously non-stop dialogue with joy and ease. They convey the plot of the piece very nicely and look at home in the slick, well-rehearsed piece of theatre. Gavin Spokes is hilarious as Francis Henshall; since I’ve only seen clips of James Corden playing the character in the original production, I wasn’t sure what to expect – but he does a brilliant job, building great rapport with the audience and letting it fuel his character.
This production of One Man, Two Guvnors is awesome – it’s slick, well-designed, very funny and incredibly memorable. It’s one of my favourite pieces of theatre for all of those reasons and more, and if you get the chance to see it on tour, make sure you go – whether you’re a theatre student like me or someone who wants an evening of endless laughter and brilliant storytelling, there’s something here for you. Go and get it while you can!
One Man, Two Guvnors is at the Grand Opera House York until 14 March and is currently on tour. For tickets and more information, see the One Man, Two Guvnors website.