FESTIVAL – One Man, Two Guvnors – 4.5K

By Peter Maddern

For One Man, Two Guvnors, Carlo Goldini’s The Servant of Two Masters has been lifted out of the 18th century and transplanted to Brighton, England, in the early days of The Beatles and given a wonderful new life.

This National Theatre of Great Britain production has won many accolades since it opened 12 months ago and certainly writer Richard Bean has felt no constraints about him in his comedy with just about all forms of the genre incorporated from farce and slapstick, messy alliterations, groan inspiring puns to discomforting audience participation. On top there is a string of 60s style songs (written by Grant Olding) played by a young band, The Craze, the members of which brought back more than a few memories of Jersey Boys as well as the fab four.

Fired from his skiffle band, Francis Henshall (Owain Arthur) becomes minder to Roscoe Crabbe. But Roscoe is really Rachel (Rosie Wyatt), posing as her own dead brother who’s been killed by her boyfriend Stanley Stubbers (Edward Bennett). Francis spots the chance of an extra meal ticket and takes a job with the one and same Stanley Stubbers but to prevent discovery Francis must keep his two guvnors apart.

All pretty mundane stuff really and the comic potential of it all is let loose, guns blazing, for a riotous two and half hours. The restaurant scene, where Francis must keep both guvnors fed without the other knowing of their presence is brilliantly handled with Mark Jackson’s shaking 80 year old waiter a highlight.

But at the end of it, One Man, Two Guvnors stands or falls on the efforts of Francis and for this Owain Arthur is simply spell bounding. With a physique not obviously athletic, Arthur flits around the stage with grace and great comic purpose, relishing every opportunity to make fun of it all – there are times when the story seems almost secondary to his antics such are the desires to pack in the laughs.

If there is one criticism to be made, it is the events that conclude the first half involving ‘audience’ participation which for this reviewer all ended somewhat sadly, fraying the fabric that had formed between the cast, the band and the audience to that point. Just why what happened did I shall leave to others to explain but for this country, brought up on the ‘rules’ of Barry Humphries various shows, at the least, I think it was a mistake.

Leave a Reply