Friday, 11 October 2019

REVIEW: One Man, Two Guvnors at the Nuffield Southampton Theatre

Richard Bean's brilliant reworking of Goldoni's 1743 play Servant of Two Masters was a huge hit when it opened at the National Theatre 2011 and propelled James Cordon to superstar status on both sides of the Atlantic. He completely embodied the part of Francis Henshall and his performance was captured by NT Live and has just been rereleased to Cinemas. It is therefore very ambitious for the Ipswich Wolsey and NST to take on the production while the original is still so fresh in the mind. But if you have not seen the original this version is sure to make you laugh.

Bean has moved the action to 1963 Brighton and some shady characters caught up in the murder of unseen Roscoe Crabbe. Henshall in his desperation to earn enough to eat acquires two bosses, Roscoe's twin sister Rachel in disguise as her brother and her lover and the murderer of Roscoe, Stanley Stubbers. Not realising who they are the action centres around his desperate attempts to serve them both while keeping them apart so he can double his income. It creates plenty of opportunity for farcical interplay most of which recreates the original mayhem.

There are classic comedy slapstick scenes involving the master's trunk where two audience members are dragged on stage to assist, a prolonged food serving scene involving a decrepit waiter with a pacemaker who keeps falling down the stairs and mistaken identities. Most of it depends on believing that Henshall is a loveable rogue not quite clever enough to carry off the deception. He is the Harlequin of the original Commedia dell'arte play and constantly breaks the fourth wall to engage the audience. Even the recently collapsed Thos Cook gets a mention with an added raised eyebrow! 

Farce is hard to do requiring spot on comic timing, believable characters in outlandish situations and a good pace to not allow the audience to reflect on the ludicrous plot. Director Peter Rowe ratchets up the action a notch too far, the cast are too aware of their situation and the long scene changes in full view slow the pace and allow time to reflect. The set design by Libby Watson is very complicated as it tries to cope with multiple locations with interior scenes in the Cricketers Arms and the Clench's home and external street and seaside scenes. In the original the changes took place behind the front cloth with a skiffle band playing increasingly silly songs but here the band is set high up above the set behind a gauze leaving the set change in full view. 

The cast work very hard, many like George Maguire, doubling up in the band
and the physical comedy is well drilled and full on. Philip Tomlin takes on the inevitable task of recreating Francis Henshall, but it is Luke Barton as the public schoolboy toff, Stanley Stubbers who steals the show with his straight delivery of some very outrageous lines and wonderfully funny posturing. Richard Lemming gets to play the fool as Alfie the doddering old waiter and pythonesque Old Woman and Josie Dunn makes a good job of the twin’s Roscoe and Rachel.

For those who missed the original this is worth seeing as the first viewing of these farcical comedy set pieces is very funny but if you saw the original on stage or the recent spoiler release by NT live of the filmed version , this version is not slick enough ,crisp enough or fresh enough to eradicate the memory of the brilliant James Cordon production.

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★★

Seat: Stalls, Row J | Price of Ticket: £24
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