ONE MAN TWO GUVNORS
The Bear Pit, Stratford upon Avon, Monday 15th May, 2017
Ever ambitious, the Bear Pit brings to its intimate space Richard Bean’s hit comedy, a knockabout farce based on a much earlier work by Goldoni. Subtle, it ain’t.
David Mears plays Francis Henshall, the conniving if dim protagonist driven by basic appetites (hunger and desire), striving to keep two employees happy – and apart. As ever with Mears, it’s a masterclass in comedy. Characterisation, timing and physicality are all done to perfection, although from time to time, especially in the more intense moments, it’s as though he is channelling James Corden, the originator of the role at the National Theatre. Given Corden’s phenomenal success in the part, this is no bad thing!
Others in the excellent ensemble also dazzle. Roger Ganner’s upper class Stanley is a wiz with comic exclamations and comes complete with comedy back hair. Jack Sargent’s histrionic, wannabe actor, Alan, is an absolute treat, while Flo Hatton’s Pauline makes a delightfully thick ingenue. Natalie Danks-Smith’s Rachel, in disguise as her murdered ‘identical’ twin is also a lot of fun.
For me though, the show is stolen by a towering performance from Ruth Linnett as Dolly, having to tilt her beehive do sharply every time she comes on or goes off – a running gag that never gets old. Linnett is a match for Mears in the comedy stakes, able to throw away asides to the audience with quickfire precision.
There is strong and enjoyable support from the likes of Mike McClusky as Charlie Clench, Rob Woolton as Lloyd, and Graham Tyrer in dual roles of Harry the brief and Alfie the geriatric waiter.
The laughs come thick and fast – from Bean’s hilarious script, the cast’s larger-than-life, energetic playing, and the attentive eye of director Nicky Cox who doesn’t let a detail pass her by, keeping the action focused and the pace consistent in order to maximise our laughter.
An onstage skiffle trio plays through the leisurely scene transitions – the economic almost Spartan set proves to be versatile in its suggestion of the action’s locations, allowing the actors to come to the fore. It’s a pity there isn’t more space for the running around, which would crank up Francis’s frenetic activity, but this is a taut production of Bean’s genius with plenty of sauce, relentlessly funny and expertly executed.