ONE MAN TWO GUVNORS
Crescent Theatre, Birmingham, Sunday 23rd September, 2018
Richard Bean’s hit comedy is served up with gusto by director Mark Payne and his energetic ensemble. Set in Brighton in 1963, this is a world of gangsters, scrap metal merchants and lawyers, where the height of sophistication is ‘a pub that does food’.
Leading the cast as the hapless Francis Henshall is Damien Dickens, who puts his own stamp on the role, making it less James Corden and more Adrian Chiles. Dickens has the unenviable task of beating himself up, which he manages with aplomb, and I warm to him as the performance progresses. He could do with some padding to make more sense of the references to the character’s bulk.
Naomi Jacobs is absolutely perfect as Rachel Crabbe in disguise as her late twin brother Roscoe, and she is matched in brilliance by Shaun Hartman as her love interest, Stanley Stubbins. This pair are Henshall’s two guvnors and it is from the contrivances of the plot that keep the bosses separate that most of the farce arises.
Graeme Braidwood convinces as patriarch Charlie ‘the Duck’; Hannah Bollard is pitch perfect as Henshall’s love interest Dolly in an arch and assured performance, while Jason Timmington’s declamatory actor Alan Dingle is also enormous value. Lara Sprosen’s Pauline is winningly dim. There is strong support from John O’Neill as Lloyd Boateng, Jordan Bird as Gareth, and Brian Wilson as Harry, but the show is almost stolen from the leads by a brutally slapstick performance from Jacob Williams as doddering octogenarian Alfie who bears the brunt of the comic violence.
The set, by Megan Kirwin and Keith Harris, is stylish and functional without being fussy so the cast has plenty of room to run around in. Vera Dean’s costumes evoke the era effectively – although Harry Dangle’s sleeves could do with turning up!
Payne paces the action to maximise comic effect. The asides are delivered with pinpoint timing and Bean’s hilarious script, brimming with brilliant lines, is given the energy and punch it needs to make it work.
A splendid production that is laugh-out-loud funny from start to finish, proving there is still plenty of mileage in long-established comic tropes (the play is based on an 18th century Italian piece) and demonstrating yet again the wealth of talent on and off the stage at the Crescent. I had a boss time.