SUSU Theatre Group's Spring show is a good old-fashioned romp sprinkled with great production, powerful performances and a refusal to take itself too seriously.
Theatre Group’s spring show, and sadly the last for some of their cast, follows the easily confused Francis (James Adams) as he embarks on his mission to find food by taking employment with two whole governors – Roscoe Crabbe, who is actually his disguised (non-identical!) twin sister Rachel Crabbe (Katherine Quinn), and Stanley Stubbers (Elliot Morris), her boyfriend, who murdered Roscoe and is now on the run from the law. This might sound confusing – and it is – but it also makes for a whole lot of comedy, from miscommunication to good old-fashioned slapstick. As Theatre Group says: ‘Fake beards, ferocious gangsters, fire hazards, failed actors and a whole plate of fish heads; one man, two guvnors: what could possibly go wrong?’
The show’s charm comes particularly from its self-awareness, both of its time and its medium. The references to the 1960s setting, some of them strikingly topical, were knowingly and suitably delivered to a very responsive audience. The true highlight, however, was the way in which the cast frequently broke the fourth wall to fill up the gaps between the slightly clumsy set changes only to put up the most ridiculous, mostly in-character, shenanigans: from a disappointingly short rendition of ‘Alphabet Aerobics’ to an innuendo-filled reading of Latin words and hilariously delivered backstories. The more the set changed, the better these moments got. Refreshingly, they didn’t pretend to not be gap-fillers, and they ended up filling the gaps so well that some of them actually left us wanting more! Nobody took themselves too seriously – and this only helped them out, since even small mistakes such as a fire that didn’t light because of some very stubborn matches were transformed into laughter.
The set design is full of fun little details – room signs that keep falling off, a cricketer you can stick your face through, one screechy portrait of the Queen, and stairs that don’t exist (but it’s such good acting you’ll believe they do!). And speaking of good acting, it’s the shining cast that bring this production to life.
Katherine Quinn reprises her role as woman-pretending-to-be-a-man from As You Like It with obvious glee, as her character Rachel hilariously forgets and immediately remembers that she is in fact, playing a part, and clears her throat back into manhood with a squeak. Elliot Morris, as Rachel’s boyfriend Stanley Stubbers (or Dustin Pubsign as he may ask some to call him) is a gloriously pompous posh boy, garnering many laughs with his boarding-school-boy ways, sexual practices, and his mass of (totally real and not stuck-on at all, honest) chest hair. The central romance between Stanley and Rachel, however, allows both Quinn and Morris to show off the strength and variety of their skills outside comedy to deliver a few truly heartfelt, Romeo-and-Juliet-style moments.
Theatre Group leaves no room for minor characters – all of them are memorable. Alan/Orlando Dangle (Josh Morgan) with all his pompous camp flourishes and pretentious Shakespearean monologues flounces across the stage, while Fred Thornton’s 86-(or 87)-year-old Alfie manages only a groan, a shuffle, and many tumblings down the (totally real) stairs. Harry Seager’s Charlie “The Duck” Clench proudly showcases his Cockney accent as the resident wannabe mafia man, Rory Dick shows off his Latin as solicitor Rory Dangle, and Sam Rowley’s Lloyd Boateng stands to the side, the paternal figure putting all the pieces together.
Amelia Pike as Dolly and Phoebe Armstrong as Pauline bring life to characters that could easily become stereotypes; the promiscuous secretary and ditsy girlfriend respectively. Aside from the stereotype-friendly yet wonderfully comic moments, the interaction between Pauline and Dolly provides one of the topical moments of the play. As Pauline lets herself be brutally mistreated by her fiance, Dolly brings in the heart-warming (and necessary) feminism to the table: he is not worth it. Girls that always have each other’s backs – even in the way more misogynistic society of the 1960s – is refreshing to watch.
And last, but certainly not least, James Adams as Francis is the perfect showman, guiding us through the chaos of the plot with a cheeky grin and a well-timed quip always on hand. Armed with a fat-suit and a magnetic stage presence, he holds control of the whole room with ease, even able to have a rather intense fight with just himself. He especially shines when conducting audience interaction, pulling women onto the stage to lift a heavy trunk and get called prostitutes, or asking for advice on a first date from a woman in the front row.
Theatre Group’s One Man, Two Guvnors comes to an end with a good old-fashioned sing-song, complete with cheesy choreography – a fitting conclusion for a production so full of light-hearted fun and a refusal to take itself too seriously.
Theatre Group’s One Man, Two Guvnors is on at the Annex Theatre until Saturday, March 23rd at 19:30. Tickets are available here.