One Man, Two Guvnors @ The Mayflower, Southampton
Based on a classic piece of Commedia dell’Arte by Carlo Goldini and reflecting the trappings of the improve-based art form, it’s often tough to know when the actors are departing the script and taking things into their own hands, but regardless of whether the words are theirs or were set down by Richard Beanthey hit the mark far more often than not.
In the central role of Francis Henshall Gavin Spokes is a whirlwind of pratfalls and slapstick with a sharp wit to boot. For all that his performance brings the show together this is really an ensemble piece with all cast members being given their chance to shine.
Down on his luck and in need of a job (and lunch) Francis finds himself serving two masters, tin powerhouse Rachel Crabbe (Alicia Davies) is posing as her recently murdered gangland boss twin brother, she employs Francis as a minder and, in the guise of Rossco is trying to extort money from Charlie Clench as a dowry for marrying his daughter. Meanwhile Rachel’s beloved (and her brother’s killer) Stanley is in town and secures the services of Francis as his batman (servant, not superhero). Patrick Warner’s Stanley is one third Tim Nice-But-Dim to two parts smutty Bertie Wooster and, even in the face of Spokes’ towering performance, is the funniest thing here.
Even the smaller roles standout, none more so than Michael Dylan whose physical comedy is timed to perfection as hapless octogenarian Alfie, a blend of Manuel and Mrs Mopp with just a hint of Father Jack. The wonderful music from The Craze, the live skiffle band who play the audience into and out of the theatre as well as accompanying the action, deserves recognition too. Go look them up!
So, is One Man, Two Guvnors as funny as it’s reputation suggests? No, some moments feel a touch contrived and after a whirlwind first act the second is a touch flat. Nonetheless you’ll be hard pressed to find a funnier night out so check the tour dates to see when Francis and friends are in town!