One Man Two Guvnors Review
By the Lichfield Players at the Lichfield Garrick Main Studio
Wednesday 30 January 2019
By Features Writer Jono Oates
Sometimes when you got to review a performance at a theatre you don’t quite know what to expect: maybe the play is new to you or you’re not sure of the songs in a musical; perhaps you’ve never read any reviews or have not discussed the play with anyone – so as you settle down in your seat and the opening chords or lines begin, it’s a journey of adventure, not knowing whether you are going leave the theatre disappointed or delighted.
But when you are going to see One Man Two Guvnors, one of the most celebrated stage comedies of recent times, performed by the Lichfield Players and set in the Garrick theatre you know that you are not going to be let down and that you are, undoubtedly, going to have a great evening.
So, let me cut to the chase – this is a fantastic, funny, witty, clever and laugh-out-loud performance and, for a night out at a local theatre with a local theatre company, is extremely entertaining and, as you walk out of the doors of the Garrick at the end, you’ll leave with a lovely warm feeling in your heart – even on the coldest night of the winter!
One Man Two Guvnors was written by Richard Bean but based on an 18th century Italian comedy, The Servant of Two Masters. One Man was first produced in 2011 and soon moved to the West End and then Broadway. The lead character of Francis Henshall was most notably played by comedian, writer, and now chat show host, James Corden, to huge critical acclaim and winning him the Tony Award for best actor in a play in 2012.
The play, set in the early 1960s, is a fast-faced farcical comedy with large dollops of slapstick, misunderstandings, women-dressed-as-men, star-crossed lovers and mistaken identities – think a Shakespearean comedy play crossed with Brian Rix and Norman Wisdom! The plot is fairly complicated, and deliberately so, and involves Francis, a big-boned, bumbling and permanently confused ex-skiffle player who is down on his luck and desperate for both work and anything, literally anything, to eat. Within a matter of minutes he suddenly has two jobs with two different bosses (the Guvnors) and has to try and keep the two men from being in the same room together in case they realise he is playing one against the other. One of his bosses is Roscoe Crabbe, a dead gangland boss (stay with me…) who is in fact his ‘identical twin’ sister Rachel and cunningly disguised as her late brother a she tries to track down his killer. Her brother was killed by upper-class toff Stanley Stubbers who is Francis’s new, second, boss. In a strange twist Rachel, masquerading as her late departed brother Roscoe, is hopelessly head-over-heels in love with Stanley, Francis’s new boss and who is, unbeknown to her, the man who killed her ‘twin’ brother…it could happen to anyone couldn’t it!!!
Into this Eastenders-style plot is thrown an array of comedy characters: Charlie ‘the Duck’ Clench, a retired gangland boss and father to Pauline, pretty, lovely but someone who would not trouble the scoreboard on Mastermind; ‘Arry Dangle, the slightly dodgy family solicitor whose claim to fame is that he got the whole of the Mau Mau rebels ‘off the hook’ in a court case (the Mau Mau uprising was a rebellion by Kenyan nationals in the 1950s); Harry’s son Alan Dangle, an aspiring actor who will strike a pose and throw a line at any given opportunity and who is in love with nice-but-dim Pauline; Lloyd Boateng, an ex-con mate of Charlie the Duck from Parkhurst prison, now a pub landlord; the curvaceous and flirty Dolly, Charlie’s secretary and, finally, Gareth and Alfie, waiters from the pub that Lloyd runs.
As Francis desperately tries to keep his two guvnors happy and as far apart as possible while attempting to clumsily woo delightful Dolly, and the two sets of lovers, Alan and Pauline and Stanley and Rachel / Roscoe try to find the course to true love, misunderstandings, miscommunications, and missed opportunities abound and Francis’s already confused and troubled life descends into total chaos. But Francis is a loveable rouge, misguided maybe, but despite all his faults and his voracious appetite, still loveable – and so a happy ending for all concerned is definitely on the agenda.
The Lichfield Players are an extremely experienced and talented group and, in this production, they are joined by some familiar faces who have featured in other productions at the Garrick to create a fantastic ensemble group. The lead role of Francis is, of course the most significant one in the play and when you have James Corden, a Tony Award winning actor, to compare your own performance against it is very daunting – these are massive shoes to try and fill. But Elliot Beech, in the titular role, gives a sparkling performance that is highly entertaining, watchable and full of mischief and banter. In most productions Francis is played with a Welsh accent, but here our hero is more Essex than Powys and with the physical resemblance to Corden it is sometimes quite easy to think that it is James and not Elliot standing on stage. This is no impression or carbon-copy though, it is his performance in its own right and I’m sure that if James Corden had been in the audience last night we would have been hearing his distinctive belly-laugh echo round the auditorium! Elliot is superb, with his face showing fear, cunning, pain, triumph, joy, greed and haunted despair in equal measure. Great comic timing, quick off the mark with asides and knowing winks at the audience and physically very funny, especially in the sequence where he has a knock-down, drag out fight with himself as one of his later egos fights the other, very funny and clearly very physically demanding too. He is excellent through-out and spends a lot of time onstage, leading the show in a very capable and entertaining way – top marks.
Patrick Jervis, with a host of Garrick credits with the Lichfield Operatic Society and the Sutton Coldfield Musical Theatre groups, is very funny as the stuffy upper class twit Stanley Stubbers and Lichfield Player’s regular Andy Jones has some great one-liners as the less than terrifying gangland leader The Duck. Kathy Coombes is cheeky and chirpy and sensibly plays the cross-dressing Rachel Crabbe with a soft voice rather than going for the gruff and unconvincing gravel-voiced woman-playing-a-man version and Stephen Brunton, as the dodgy solicitor and another experienced Garrick actor, Jonathan Blake as landlord Boateng both provide excellent support. The Fun Boy Three of Lucy Dufaye as puddled Pauline, Angelique Runnals-Bould as ditzy Dolly and Dickie Bannister as aspiring actor Alan Dangle are all great fun, they are a fabulous set of comic creations, the type that, in my opinion, audiences really love. Bannister plays the effete and camp Master Dangle to perfection, as he fights, at times literally, for the affections of his beloved, if not slightly simple, Pauline, a finely crafted, and very funny performance. Great support cast characters as well and was good to see Chris Stanley, last seen hoofing it across the Garrick stage as Alfred Doolittle in My Fair Lady, who had a cameo role of three lines which include a really clever throw-away line about Atlas and Heracles – one for the Greek scholars! Ron Hughes is the put-upon head waiter at the pub and Nick Baker is the new ‘boy’ waiter who is on his first day at the pub at the age of 87! Nick’s ‘young’ Alfie is a mix between Julie Walter’s ‘two sooooooups’ waitress and knockabout comedian Norman Wisdom, flinging himself about the stage and getting punched, kicked, head-butted, tripped-up and hurled down the stairs with frightening, and wince-inducing, regularity. Very, very cleverly staged and expertly choreographed, and if you have seen the pantos at the Garrick in recent years these scenes are very physically demanding as well as requiring many hours of rehearsal.
Throughout the show, in between scenes, the audience is entertained by the shows’ ‘house-band’, the Scrapyard Skiffle Band, who play some cracking, and foot-tapping, 1960s skiffle music. Led by musical director Ellie Galvin, there are some velvety-smooth vocals and close harmonies and fine musicianship from guitarists Jonathan Craddock (a welcome return to the Garrick!), Alan Rowe and Steve Appleyard as well as violinist Ian Davies and vocalist Hannah and Mandy Davies. The music is fantastic and, as the main cast leave the stage, the band provide their closing number and receive their own, richly deserved, round of applause.
The play’s director is Maureen George and she does a fabulous job of what is a very challenging play to put on, getting the mix between comedy, slapstick, music and drama spot on. Watch out for the elements of the show that appear to go wrong and are unscripted and also the audience participation and try and work out whether these ‘mistakes’ are intentional or all part of the fun – very clever. Maureen is backed up by an excellent behind-the-scenes team of the Lichfield Players and, of course, the whole front of house and backstage technical crews from the Lichfield Garrick who are as professional as always.
If you go to see One Man Two Guvnors on the London stage you would be paying a small fortune for your ticket. But you can see One Man here at the Lichfield Garrick for just £15 per person. It’s a fantastically funny show, put on by local actors and a local theatre company in Lichfield’s local theatre. This theatre performance, put on by a group of non-professionals, is known as Am Dram, or Amateur Dramatics, but trust me, there is nothing amateur about this production, and it is worth every single penny of your £15 and more – please don’t miss out on One Man, Two Guvnors and a thousand laughs.
One Man Two Guvnors is on at the Lichfield Garrick Main Theatre until Saturday 2 February with a matinee on Saturday. Book tickets at the Box Office at the Lichfield Garrick, ring 01543 412121 or book online at: www.lichfieldgarrick.com
Photo credit: Brian Duffy