I have to say from the start of my review that on-stage comedy is not my usual taste in theatre, so I was a bit apprehensive as to what I would be finding on stage tonight and if it would be a theatre experience that I would enjoy. The big problem with comedy is that it has to be done very well to not look fake and laboured and the timing has to be perfect from everyone involved. Many performances fail at some point to just do it right. Also, this show came with such positive reviews that I was doubtful that anything could live up to this level of praise. Well, I have to admit that I was wrong on all counts. "One Man, Two Guvnors" does live up to all the praise heaped on it to date and this is on-stage comedy performed perfectly with perfect timing from everyone involved and also a cast experienced enough to bend the script a little where needed. The main thing for me was that everyone on stage was simply enjoying being in the production, and that came over to the audience and made them care about the characters on-stage.
What exactly is "One Man, Two Guvnors"? Well to be honest, that is a good question as the show is one of those unique hard-to-describe theatrical events. At its heart, it is a classic "British" comedy very much in the traditional music hall tradition. It is also very much carrying on the theme of Ealing Studio films and "Carry On" films. Although out of the "British" mould, I also found much of it to be reminiscent of early Marx Brothers films.
Probably the best way to describe this show is to summarise from the advertising flyers. Frankie Henshall (Gavin Spokes) has been fired from his skiffle band (The Craze) and becomes a minder to feared gangster Roscoe Crabbe. What he does not know is that Roscoe is dead and this is really his twin sister Rachel (Alicia Davies) that he is working for. Roscoe Crabbe has in fact been killed by Rachel's boyfriend Stanley Stubbers (Patrick Warner) and spotting an opportunity to make more money, Frankie also ends up working for Stanley at the same time as Roscoe (Rachel in disguise) and becomes a man with "Two Guvnors". Of course, Frankie has no idea that his employers know one another and they have no idea he is working for both of them.
We also meet at the very start of the performance the other main characters. Roscoe has arranged a marriage of convenience to Pauline Clench (Jasmyn Banks), the daughter of Charlie "the Duck" Clench (Shaun Williamson). Word has got around though that Roscoe is dead and everyone is surprised when he turns up to collect his intended and money owed to him. Pauline is now getting engaged to Alan Dangle (Edward Hancock) who is the son of Charlie's solicitor Harry Dangle (David Verrey). We also meet here Dolly (Emma Barton) and Lloyd Boateng (Derek Elroy). With all the principal characters established very early on, the story now starts to take on the classic comedy elements of double identities, misunderstanding and sub-plots that you would expect. I am not going to tell you any of these, just go and see the show for yourself. The few things I will let you know in advance though are that the on-stage sight gags and comedy timing are perfect, there are a few audience participation moments and look out for the hapless 87 year old waiter played wonderfully tonight by Michael Dylan.
The show really starts before the show as when I went in the Skiffle band "The Craze" were already performing and warming up the audience. They also performed during the interval and also provided some other numbers during the show itself. Pay attention to the vocal numbers during the show as they are often singing the plot to the show.
Everyone is just perfect for their role, but the whole show does pretty much rest on Gavin Spokes as Francis Henshall as he is the one on stage most of the time and also the person connecting all the various story lines together. Francis is simply a great comedy talent with an warmth that the audience really took to. He is pretty much the central figure that everyone else has to take their timing from and he just makes it look so simple. Good comedy is very hard to do and this man does it very well.
Edward Hancock is also notable as Alan Dangle who sees himself as a great theatrical/film artiste and poet complete with outlandish theatrical poses at nearly every opportunity. Alicia Davies as Rachel/Roscoe Crabbe also carries off the dual identity part with ease.
This is simply a great night out watching an experienced and talented cast who really know their profession. Great comedy and great timing like this come around rarely. Writer Richard Bean has done a great job here with a script that creates some great parts for actors to play and somehow manages to produce a modern piece of work while at the same time producing a very traditional one too.
I can't leave this review without another mention of the Skiffle Band "The Craze". The guys are a real live band and you can catch up with them on their Twitter page at https://twitter.com/thecrazeband
Review by Tom King