When it opened at the National Theatre nearly 10 years ago, One Man, Two Guvnors was rightly roundly praised as a comic masterpiece, and in this Norwich revival it has lost none of its sparkle.
Richard Bean’s take on commedia dell’arte has a witty, playful script that plays with the fourth wall, ropes in a skiffle band and members of the audience, and is as comfortable with fart jokes as referencing Shakespeare – although to be fair the Bard wasn’t exactly shy of bodily humour or slapstick either.
It needs a confident and compelling cast to deliver, and Sound Ideas has delivered for this first full-scale production at the Maddermarket Theatre since lockdown lifted.
Joseph Betts charms as Francis Henshall, the role that launched James Corden (although you shouldn’t hold that against this production). He is funny, physical, and quick and feels like he owns the stage. Above all he looks like he is enjoying himself – which makes it incredibly easy for the audience to do the same.
He is matched for slapstick gusto by Tom Davies as Alfie, the 87-year old waiter with a pacemaker, poor hearing, and penchant for falling down stairs. It’s the kind of role that just doesn’t work if you hold back, and Davies give his all – I’m not sure whether it’ll be the face gurning or the pratfalls that will hurt him more by the end of the run, but the audiences will be aching from laughing.
Nic Gordon as posh but dim Stanley Stubbers is another standout performance of the piece, exhibiting no shame but great timing. Director Dan Smith gave a stand-in performance on opening night as lovestruck wannabee actor Alan Dangle following a cast member accident, but you wouldn’t have known it – he slipped in seamlessly.
Also fitting in well are skiffle band the The Thrupney Bits, with vocalists Sadie Inns and Chris Brown. In the original NT version of the show – recently watched by 2.5m people via their free YouTube lockdown screenings – the band felt a bit awkward, interrupting the action. Here they matched much more neatly, even if a little cramped on the wings of the Maddermarket stage.
There is a large supporting cast, with Kate Pantry deservedly gaining laughs with her portrayal of no-nonsense northern lass Dolly, and Emily Sidnell poised and perfect as the vacant but lovely bride-to-be Pauline Clench.
The story is classic farce material of love, misunderstandings, disguises, and double-crossing, wrapped around a knowing pastiche of 1960s Brighton, but aside from a few contemporary asides the comedy is timeless.
This is a crackingly comic, hugely enjoyable show. If you’ve been hesitating about going back to the theatre, stop worrying and go and remind yourself just how much fun it can be.
- One Man, Two Guvnors continues at Maddermarket Theatre, Norwich nightly at 7.30pm until Saturday, September 11, with a 2.30pm matinee on Saturday.