One Man, Two Guvnors
It’s a long, long way from 18th century Italy, and this version may be a long way off the original, updated to 1963 and happily embracing much of traditional British humour. But in short, it’s one of those rare occasions when the entire audience, nearly the entire time, was in complete hysterics.
Fair play to Richard Bean, who adapted Goldoni’s farce: the satire is scathing, dialogue incandescent. As for describing the plot, however, that’s as confusing as life becomes for your man, Francis Henshall. He is trying to work everything out while working for gangster Crabbe at the same time as Crabbe’s nemesis, Stanley Stubbers. Just to make things even more complicated, or just one thing, rather, Stubbe’s beloved is Rachel Crabbe. Chuck in star-cross’d lovers, threatening fathers plus a couple of waiters from the Manuel School of Silver Service, and if incredibly far-fetched here and there, with a slight slowing down of pace in the second half, what a mad merry-go-round this all is.
Pantomime in many ways has devolved from Commedia dell’Arte, and here, you can clearly see how, with all the stock characters, mistaken identity, completely over-the-top acting and audience participation – there’s even the classic dining scene. And while making do with one other interior (sitting room) and one exterior (Brighton), the scene changes make for delightful interludes, brightened with music from The Craze, occasionally accompanied by cast members: Everyman as Jack of all Trades.
Gavin Spokes puts in a sterling performance (and he’s an excellent fit for James Corden’s shoes), if at times a little too sure of himself for a man constantly stumbling into predicaments. Patrick Warner is also completely at home with the villainous character of Stubbs, particularly given his surreal flights of fancy.
The whole cast indeed worked their socks off but room to single out just a couple: Edward Hancock as Alan Dangle is refreshing in the hackneyed role of Thespian, balanced by Jasmyn Banks and her successfully heroic efforts as his heroine, dumb blonde Pauline Clench. Meanwhile, Michael Dylan is positively ebullient as the waiter, Alfie; literally a knock-out with prat falls and the like, while Emma Barton (Dolly, the down-to-earth bookkeeper), sparkles in almost a cameo role
An enthralling, hilarious show, although maybe just a bit too calculated and a little too much for some tastes. By and large, though, it’s a complete riot.