Last night, I had the pleasure of going to see One Man, Two Guvnors, an English adaptation of the Italian comedy The Servant of Two Masters, at the Theatre Royal Haymarket. I was somewhat drawn to the idea of a farce set in Brighton in 1963. After all, many of the movies and television programmes I loved in my youth were completely and utterly daft. The Carry On films, Blackadder and Only Fools and Horses have all used parody and slapstick to make me laugh at the silliest things, and even the horrendously cringe-worthy Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em got me giggling at Frank Spencer’s misfortune. Some clever writing with a dollop of physical comedy always goes down a treat, so this production looked like great fun.
I had been rather keen to see James Corden in the role of Francis Henshall – partly because I like the guy, and partly because the reviews were so good – so when I heard that he was accompanying the show to Broadway, I assumed that I’d missed out on something great. Oh, how wrong I was. Fiona Mountford’s review in the London Evening Standard last week laid my fears to rest:
“In best showbiz fashion Owain Arthur, previously Corden’s understudy, steps into the limelight and, from the opening moment when he catches a confidently thrown peanut in his mouth, makes it clear that he’s there to stay, gloriously unfazed by the part’s immense physical demands. Whisper it softly, but I found the show even better this time around, without Corden’s occasionally distracting presence.”
I needed no additional reassurance so, when I got the chance to go, I grabbed it with both hands. After all, even if the comedy wasn’t my kind of thing, I could still enjoy the West End theatre experience and the 60s costumes which always looked so great in the photos. But with the plot being about the things which drive us all – food, money and sex – it was pretty obvious it was going to be an enjoyable show. I wasn’t quite prepared for just how funny it is though.
Francis Henshall, now played by Owain Arthur, is the man with two jobs and all the confusion that comes along with it. Whilst in Brighton with him, we meet gangster with a secret Roscoe Crabbe, lovable posh boy Stanley Stubbers, feminist book-keeper Dolly, dumb blonde Pauline Clench, and OTT actor Alan Dangle. Every character is a a fantastic parody of a stereotype often used in comedy, but none of them seem tired or derivative. Even Alfie, the old waiter with a pacemaker who keeps falling down the stairs, is just perfect in his simplicity. It helps that all the actors are so bloody good too. There wasn’t a moment when I stopped enjoying this show – even the scene changes were livened up with a fantastic skiffle band and the occasional musical treat from one of the cast.
Those costumes I’d been drooling over were great too. With sharp suits for the chaps plus big hair, stockings and heels for the gals, they captured the early 60s well without being a Mad Men facsimile. I’m dying to know what amazing undergarments ensured that curvaceous Jodie Prenger as Dolly kept her pencil skirt and white shirt from riding around all over the place. I’ve yet to master that trick myself! However, there was one costume niggle which needs to be addressed. Either the female leads need better suspender belts, or they should have someone check their seams are straight for the second half. To be perfectly honest though, this is a tiny niggle as I was laughing so hard that I barely noticed. I only mention it here because, well… you know me and lingerie.
I would highly recommend that you get tickets for One Man, Two Guvnors pronto. If you’re a fan of British comedy then you’re bound to find it as brilliantly hilarious as I did. Tickets are very reasonably priced for the West End but, if you can’t get to see it in London, the show is also touring the UK at the end of the year. Plus, if you’re lucky enough to live in or be visiting New York you can catch it there from April.
DISCLOSURE: I was sent a pair of free tickets to One Man Two Guvnors by AKA arts and entertainment industry.