Tonight marked the opening night of critically acclaimed comedy play One Man, Two Guvnors at the Mayflower theatre in Southampton. Having finished its run in London, the play is now embarking on a tour of UK and Ireland, giving more of the population a chance to see the brilliantly funny and frantically paced comedy.
Opening the performance and providing multiple interludes were the skiffle band headed by the wonderfully multi-talented Philip Murray Warson, from which the play’s main character, Francis Henshall (Gavin Spokes) was fired. The band certainly act as an interesting alternative to the wait when changing sets, and provide an easy listening experience for the audience. A range of instruments are used throughout the interludes and a number of the breaks also saw cast members come out from behind the curtain to showcase their talents.
The premise of the play is simple on paper yet proves more complicated than initially thought as events progress. Francis Henshall comes to be employed by Roscoe Crabbe (Alicia Davies) who is actually disguised as her dead brother, himself killed by her boyfriend Stanley Stubbers (Patrick Warner) who he also becomes employed by. The first act focuses on Henshall’s pursuit of food, whereas the second act focuses on his amorous pursuit of Dolly (Emma Barton), all the time trying to prevent either of his two ‘guvnors’ from discovering he has another employer. Ultimately, and predictably, this all culminates in an ending where the truth is revealed, but this sets up a number of hilarious and farcical set-pieces which frequently has the audience in hysterics.
A particular strength of One Man, Two Guvnors is its audience interaction. In total, the audience were interacted with directly by Henshall on around four occasions. The extent of participation varied, from banter with particular members of the audience to full on involvement in the play. Whilst the latter may well have been scripted (I will not spoil what happens), this does not ruin what is a genuinely hilarious section of the play. In fact, the audience is made to feel at ease with the apparently natural witty repartee, and it seems on a number of occassions as though the cast members were trying to stifle laughter at what was happening. It would be interesting to see whether this aspect of the play changes at all from night to night or whether it is improvised to a point, as if this was entirely scripted, repeat viewings might leave a bit of a bitter taste. Neverless on first viewing, you cannot fail to laugh.
Another huge strength of One Man, Two Guvnors is in its comical characters. Undoubtedly, Francis Henshall and Alfie (Michael Dylan) are the two funniest characters in the play, and the restaurant scene which they share together towards the end of the first act is one of the funniest scenes I have ever seen. Henshall is the typical bumbling fool who takes on more than he can handle, whereas Alfie plays the stuttering old man who is also extremely accident prone. Also contributing to the blend of comedy is Alan Dangle (Edward Hancock) who is a melodramatic aspiring actor. He spends the entirety of the play (interspersed with multiple opportunities to show off) in pursuit of Pauline Clench (Jasmyn Banks) who plays a dim-witted blonde. All these characters, whilst giving a multiple-faceted view of comedy, are undeniably slapstick and so people who do not find situational comedy funny should stay well away from this play. However, given my sense of humour, I found every character hilarious in their own way and so will most of the audience.
The ending of the play is special, in that not only do you get to hear the dulcet tones of Charlie Clench, played by ex-Eastenders and Extras superstar Shaun Williamson, but the entire cast is reunited for one last hurrah. The opportunity for a sing-along clearly could not be missed and by this point the audience were well in the mood to cheer and clap on the cast as the play came to a close.
Having not seen much in the way of theatre, I do not have many other plays with which I can make a comparison. However, I can say that One Man, Two Guvnors certainly feels unique. Not only is it consistently funny throughout, the play also has a decent enough plot to sustain it through to the end.
9/10 – If you are looking to take a night off, take a trip to the theatre to see One Man, Two Guvnors and you will certainly leave with a grin on your face.
Tickets are still widely available for the performances at the Mayflower theatre and can be bought here. A £5 student deal is available for the performance on the 3rd June.