ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS
Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 17th March, 2015
The National Theatre’s hit production reaches Wolverhampton for the final week of its tour and the energy levels show no signs of flagging. The emphasis is on laughs and plenty of them in this non-stop cavalcade of comedy in the old-fashioned way, right down to the comic asides that keep us in on the action.
Francis Henshall (Gavin Spokes) has been kicked out of his skiffle band but finds employment as a general factotum to not one but two unsavoury characters in the form of Roscoe Crabbe (really his own twin sister, impersonating her late brother!) and the boyfriend of Roscoe’s twin sister (and also his murderer) Stanley Stubbers. Add to the mix, arranged marriage, large sums of money and a shedload of slapstick, and the stage is set for a riotous couple of hours. It’s farce. It’s commedia dell’arte. It’s seaside postcards and Carry On.
Spokes heads an ebullient cast. The comic timing is flawless. As hapless Henshall, Spokes throws himself into the role, literally – he even beats himself up. But, despite the title, this is not a One Man show. Shaun Williamson is superb as long-suffering patriarch, Charlie ‘the Duck’ Clench, with Jasmyn Banks hilarious as his melodramatically thick daughter, Pauline. A perfectly ridiculous Edward Hancock struts and postures around as wannabe actor Alan Dangle and David Verrey is good value as his lawyer father, Harry Dangle. The two guvnors, Alicia Davies and Patrick Warner, are equally preposterous in their characterisations – this is not a show about nuance. Characters are caricatures at the service of the plot and it’s utterly refreshing to see something so old-school working so well.
Emma Barton’s Dolly brings to mind a Joe Orton creation – in fact, Richard Bean’s wonderful script mines the traditions of British humour from the past three or four centuries. I particularly enjoyed Derek Elroy’s cheery old lag Lloyd Boateng but geriatric waiter Alfie (Michael Dylan) almost steals the show. It is Gavin Spokes who drives the engine, adlibbing with audience members and clearly still enjoying himself after all this time on the road.
Scene changes are covered by skiffle band The Craze (not the Krays, as I thought when I first heard them) but the interludes become increasingly bizarre as the show goes on. We are treated to a xylophone solo and later, someone plays an array of rubber-headed horns. It all adds to the heightened atmosphere of a piece that revels in contrivance and artificiality.
You don’t need to know the play’s heritage (although it’s detailed in the programme) to be able to laugh your face off at this relentlessly funny production. An absolute delight from start to finish.