The National Theatre’s critically acclaimed One Man Two Guvnors transfers to Leeds Grand Theatre this week as part of a national tour.
Based on 18th century comedy The Servant of Two Masters by Carlo Goldoni, One Man Two Guvnors follows the plight of Francis Henshall, a dumpling-like lackey who tries to maintain two jobs with two governors in the wake of a gangster killing and arranged marriage. When Henshall’s two bosses eventually collide, his world explodes into torment and chaos – all whilst trying to gain a date and stave off hunger for chips and warm ale.
Written with the finest farce traditions in mind, Richard Bean’s script is tautly composed of cheeky gags and physical japes. Riogorosuly distilled, it is underscored with a barrage of one-liners and wordplay. Deceptively traditional at the outset, the play is conceptually modern and subverts conventions of stage comedy with continuous, toe-curling audience participation. Almost metaplay whilst outwardly traditional, Bean’s writing is a love letter to British bawdiness; it is highbrow structure with lowbrow flourishes, distilling innuendo and physical pratfalling into a distinctly retrospective style of theatrical presentation.
Mark Thompson’s busy set design evokes pantomime and musical, showcasing painted vistas in a kind yet knowingly mocking style, complementing the farce-within-a-farce concept which constantly reminds the audience that the play embraces fabrication. Perhaps famously, One Man Two Gunvors is elevated beyond traditional farce into shared hysteria thanks to original, unforeseen trickery. Exposing those here is unnecessary, but expecting the unexpected is key to the production’s unique humour and outrageous theatricality.
Gavin Spokes’ central role as Henshall is superlative and boundlessly energetic, charging a physical comedy like a controlled explosion. Endlessly frenetic both in character and out, his asides to the audience are irresistibly hilarious. Indeed, the cast is wholly outstanding with standout performances from Michael Dylan as chaotic octogenarian waiter Alfie, whilst Edward Hancock glows as Alan, a cruel but gleefully funny parody of uptight thespianism. Patrick Warner is particularly impressive as toffy-twit Stubbers, occasionally reminiscent of a young Eric Idle. Alicia Davies steals scenes as Rachel Crabbe, parodying male dominance with acute absurdity whilst Emma Barton’s Dolly is deliciously saucy. Norman Pace and David Verry bring additional value to a cast which is evidently in top gear.
Set in the early Sixties, One Man Two Guvnors is also a highly nostalgic romp. From beehives to Chelsea boots, the play captures the mood of the time and is infused with salacious humour and cheeky stereotyping. It also embodies the legacy of music hall, with male impersonators and catchy musical interludes which give the production a true sense of event.
Deceptively traditional yet subversively anarchic, One Man Two Guvnors plays as a genuine collaborative experience for audiences. Drawing inspiration from Shakespeare to Carry On and beyond, the play is relentlessly British and wears it with a prestigious pride. Raucous, racy, and thoroughly outrageous, One Men Two Guvnors is an uplifting and nostalgic trip of relentless fun.