One Man, Two Guvnors – Review – Bradford Alhambra
One Man, Two Guvnors – Review
Bradford Alhambra, July 2014
by Sandra Callard
This latest big hitter from the National Theatre is currently on tour after a sell out run and rave reviews in the West End. Writer Richard Bean’s farcical comedy centres on an old 18th century commedia dell’arte piece by Carlo Goldoni. It is set in the criminal underworld of Brighton in 1963.
True to the genre, the plot is chaotic. It concerns two opposing criminal bosses, and the attempts of a hapless and hungry fatso, Frances Henshall, hilariously played by the virtually unknown Gavin Spokes, to increase his wages and feed his aching hunger. He attempts to do this by being in the employ of both bosses at the same time, without the knowledge of either of them.
James Corden played this lead role in the original National Theatre production. The script has his hallmark stamped on it. But Gavin Spokes fills his boots magnificently. He works his socks off in a mind-blowing array of physical comedy. It must result in a substantial loss of his ample weight during each performance!
The rest of the cast are equally as good. I particularly love Jasmyn Banks’s performance as the supremely unintelligent gangster’s daughter, Pauline Clench. Surely her dumb blonde is the dumbest in theatre history. Her profoundly confident and misunderstood statements on the most mundane and obvious of matters are mini masterpieces of timing and comedy.
Patrick Warner as the upper-class twit and casual murderer, Stanley Stubbers, is a total joy. Edward Hancock as a pretentious would-be actor is totally over-the-top and equally hilarious. Then Michael Dylan is superb as the luckless, doddering old waiter, Alfie. It is amazing that he is still alive at the end of the show. His incredible falls, horrific blows to most parts of his body inflicted accidentally by the rest of the cast, are so realistic they have the audience gasping. It is without doubt the funniest slap-stick sequence of comedy I have ever seen. Dylan delivers it to masochistic perfection.
The show’s Physical Comedy Director is Cal McCrystal, and he deserves an accolade for his superb creations of comedy. No doubt they have their dangerous moments but the actors pull the stunts off so superbly.
There is a cracking skiffle group on stage as you enter the theatre. They appear spontaneously and regularly throughout the show. They sing in a distinct Lonnie Donegan style and inform us of the hilarious antics just gone by, and of things to come. The band are a real talent and good to listen to. It gives a modern twist to the chorus or narrator of old and really works well.
There is much, apparently spontaneous, interaction with the audience. Particularly those brave enough to sit on the front row. Spokes proves himself an absolute master of this. He coaxes people on stage to join in the action. You are left with some indecision as to whether this is wholly spontaneous or whether they are stooges placed in the audience. Either way, it is hilarious. Those coerced to join in appear to enjoy it just as much as those of us who watch it.
This is a superbly clever and creative production. The actors are flawless. The iconic fashions and stage sets of the sixties set the scene perfectly. But the bottom line here is that the audience has over two hours of achingly superb comedy. I have endless admiration for everyone who gives it to them.