WHEN a show has been a smash hit for the National Theatre, enjoying an extended West End run, a Broadway transfer and live cinema relay, any producer looking to revive it must be haunted by the words “Follow that”. Along with the hope that the original production’s widespread familiarity will attract an audience comes the need to find a staging that can recapture the comic genius whilst making the work feel fresh.
In this new co-production between Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse, Octagon Bolton and Theatre by the Lake, director Lotte Wakeham succeeds in bringing Richard Bean’s One Man, Two Guvnors back to life, largely due to a cracking ensemble cast with impeccable comic timing. Technicolor sets and costumes by Colin Falconer and Katie Scott give the whole thing a vibrant, almost cartoon-like feel.
Bean’s play takes Carlo Goldoni’s 18th century commedia dell’arte and resets it as farce in 1960s Brighton. Francis Henshall is a down-in-luck skiffle player who takes on work as a flunkey both to Roscoe, a gangster, and to a fop called Stanley. Roscoe, who has been killed before the play begins, is now being impersonated by his own twin sister Rachel, and the fact that Stanley is both her boyfriend and her brother’s killer makes it doubly difficult for Henshall to conceal the fact that he is trying to hold down two jobs. Throw in an arranged marriage to Roscoe for Pauline, who is really in love with a ham actor called Alan, and the whole thing becomes quite a plate spinning act.
The show relies heavily on slapstick, and the cast are all at the top of their game here. Jordan Pearson as Henshall, whose gaudy checked suit and Argyle sweater make his role as the Harlequin of the piece very clear, pretty much instigates most of the physical comedy and has it absolutely off-pat. But it’s the antics of the elderly waiter Alfie that get the biggest laughs. Alfie is played by inveterate clown Javier Marzan, who is one of the best in the business. When it comes to sharp dialogue, the prize goes to Laurie Jamieson as Stanley. He might not have the most to say but he delivers every line with glorious relish and plenty of nods and winks. An onstage skiffle group deliver Grant Olding’s music, which as well as underlining the period setting also serves to cover scene changes.
One Man, Two Guvnors certainly delivers on its promise of an immensely fun night out. If it were December this would be the absolute perfect alternative to panto. In the summer it’s as refreshingly intoxicating as a whopping great jug of Pimms.
Star rating: 4½ stars
Review by Nigel Smith