When it opened in 2011 ‘One Man, Two Guvnors’’ main draw was actor who was taking the role of Francis Henshall.
One year on from Smithy’s bromance with Gavin James Corden’s career was spiralling upwards, although his arrival on the West End Stage was familiar ground for everybody’s favourite chubby comedian. In 1996 he starred in Martin Guerre, 2004 saw him joining the cast of The History Boys, but his pre Gavin & Stacey fame cemented him a lead role in ‘One Man, Two Guvnors’’ under the watchful eye of director Nicholas Hytner.
Hytner adapted the play based on Richard Bean’s novel which sees Francis attempting to juggle jobs, looking after gangster Roscoe Crabbe and Stanley Stubbers, a posh gentleman with an edgy, criminal background. The twist is, the two guvnors’ mustn’t realise they are only half of Francis’ shifty career move. There’s a further twist...Roscoe? He isn’t Roscoe! Roscoe was murdered by Stanley, who is Rachel’s lover. Who’s Rachel? Well, she’s disguised as Roscoe! Comprehend?
On paper we are sure Bean’s story explained the plot more easily, but for Hytner his audience are unable to turn back pages to recap on the story and this is the enactment’s downfall. If you aren’t au fait with the storyline you may become lost from time to time during the two-hour show. The acts themselves are linked with music The Craze and various cast members.
Is that a problem? Well, for those engrossed in plots or poor reviewers desperately trying to follow what the hell is going on for a sparkling review, yes! But for everyone else the play could be seen as a thoroughly enjoyable adolescent pantomime.
Comparisons to Boxing Day entertainment are scattered throughout the production. Audience participation is vital, although just be aware some of the bums on seats are also names in the cast, to separate the two however would be a giveaway though. Barriers between actors and spectators are also broken down when characters ask for advice, in one incident advice is called for when preparing for a date and two genuine non-equity card members find their selves on stage as part of the story.
We won’t put the Panto comparisons behind us completely, but let’s focus more on the characters and, where appropriate who is taking their parts during the current tour. Lloyd (Derek Elroy) is the posh bloke who murdered Roscoe, who is being played by Roscoe’s sister Rachel (Alicia Davies). We then have Dolly (Emma Barton) who sparks off a love interest with one of the characters and then there’s a young couple on the verge of tying the knot, he’s budding actor Alan Dangle (Edward Hancock) she’s thick as two short planks Pauline (Jasmyn Banks) although the character who steals the show is Francis Henshall admirably played by Gavin Spokes.
Chances are unless you are involved in the National Theartre (who produce the play) you won’t have a clue who the names are in the brackets, but anybody living in a UK radius of E1 will know Shaun Williamson (Barry from Eastenders) who takes the part of Pauline’s father, Charlie– the role which Corden played. (The shows very own Buttons?)
Surprisingly Charlie’s part isn’t the heaviest in a play which is dominated by Francis and borrowed by Alfie, an 86 year-old butler who uses his time on stage as slapstick. In less delicate hands the part could fall flat on its face, but the pantomime (there’s that word again) routine is one of the productions highlights.
The set backdrops are of high standard as well, exterior and interiors of The Cricketer Arms look impressive as well as the opening and closing scenes of Charlie’s living room where the family mingle to bookend the play, there’s also an end of the pier scene where Rachael and Stanley contemplate throwing themselves off the edge – do they or don’t they?
Then there’s Paddy, an imaginative friend of Francis’ who dreams up all sort of problems, although neatly ties them together by the end scene, but what happens when Francis is told to introduce his twin Irish brother who doesn’t exist?
This light-hearted yet slightly muddled romp based in Brighton which takes place in 1963 is very appealing show and well worth catching at local theatres. It’s a stylish Carry-On caper which beats seeing a Kenneth Williams repeat on 26th December!
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