One Man, Two Guvnors
by Richard Bean, based on The Servant of Two Masters by Carlo Goldoni, with songs by Grant Olding
19 to 28 April 2018
It’s 1963. Fired from his skiffle band, Francis Henshall becomes minder to Roscoe Crabbe, a small-time East End hood, now in Brighton to collect £6,000 from his fiancée’s dad. But Roscoe is really his sister Rachel posing as her own dead brother, who’s been killed by her boyfriend Stanley Stubbers. Holed up at The Cricketers Arms, the permanently ravenous Francis spots the chance of an extra meal ticket and takes a second job with one Stanley Stubbers, who is hiding from the police and waiting to be re-united with Rachel. To prevent discovery Francis must keep his two guvnors apart. Simple.
In Richard Bean’s award-winning English version of Carlo Goldoni’s classic Italian comedy, sex, food and money are paramount. It ran at the National Theatre, in the West End and on Broadway, winning James Corden a Tony Award.
|Charlie 'The Duck' Clench||Jan Kool|
|Pauline Clench||Penny Parker|
|Harry Dangle||David Kay|
|Alan Dangle||Jay Rolfe|
|Lloyd Boateng||Michael Hall|
|Francis Henshall||Ziggi Szafranski|
|Rachel Crabbe||Pamela Cuthill|
|Stanley Stubbers||Jamie Heath|
|Alfie (a waiter)||Robin Clark|
|Karen (Head Waitress)||Ann Lovell|
|Nun / policewoman||Lucy Auva|
|Taxi Driver||Keith Orton|
|Christine Patterson||Nicky Gill|
After its huge success at the National, in the West End and then on Broadway, with the irrepressible James Cordon as its lynch-pin lead, it was an enormous ‘ask’ for the Miller Centre Theatre Company to ‘follow that’. Finding Ziggi Szafranski – a consummate comic and of similar build – meant this amateur production, with such a talented cast in the many other roles, simply stormed it.
To outline the plot of this hectic farce would take too much of this review space, but put simply, the ever-hungry and out of work musician Francis Henshall (Szafranski) seeks work and finds it first with the gangster Roscoe Crabbe who turns out to be his twin sister Rachel in disguise. Next he gains employment with toff Stanley Stubbers whom, it is soon revealed, is Rachel’s boyfriend and also Roscoe’s killer.
The shenanigans of keeping these Govnors from discovering each other, plus the constant concern about needing to eat, is the nub of the play in which Szafranki simply excels.
There are other very well characterised roles within the tale. Jay Rolfe as Alan Dangle visualises his life on stage as a Shakespearian actor, with Sir Laurence Olivier in overdrive as his role model, ever declaring his love for Pauline, to whom he believes he is engaged. Penny Parker’s Pauline is wonderfully dim – ever confessing “I don’t understand” but fearful when her ex-fiancé Roscoe appears to return from the dead. Jan Kool is her dad Charlie ‘The Duck’ Clench, a gangland lackey, clearly envisaged.
Spouting Latin and legalese, Alan’s dad Harry is in the safe comedy hands of David Kay and Michael Hall adds considerably to the mirth as Lloyd, Charlie’s friend and erstwhile owner of The Cricketers Arms which, happily for the plot, serves food.
Taking on the initial swagger and demeanour of her now dead twin Roscoe, Pamela Cuthill smoothly transitions to her ‘real’ character of Rachel, switching between the required and effective manly bearing to more feminine emotions when revealing her true identity and discussing her longing for fiancé Stanley. There is comedy here too as in describing their requisite fleeing to Australia when they can collect the financial debt owing to Roscoe (hence the disguise). Who, after all, would want to be forced to live in a country with “a terrible outdoorsie life, sustained by lager, barbecues and opera." The characterisation of Henshall’s upper class Govnor, with his cut glass accent and some wonderfully daft lines gave Jamie Heath his opportunity to break away from roles as an author in recent productions and show his excellence at comedy which he played to the full.
Dolly is Charlie ‘The Duck’s’ book-keeper and attracts Henshall from their first meeting. Here, Lucy Baker added more comedy combined with suggestive poses, aided by her tight costume, and finally won both her man and a fortnght’s holiday with him in Majorca.
Two major scenes in the production might have been considered a challenge for an amateur group. The first is the one-man fight Henshall has with himself, trying to persuade himself he can cope with the possible confusion of working for two Govnors and eventually knocking himself out – beautifully handled by Szafranski. The second is the complex, fast moving and hilarious dining scene in which Govnor ‘Roscoe’ is in one room and Govnor Stubbers is in another and the fine dining orders come thick and fast, delivered precariously to the diners. Starring as the attendant here was Robin Clark as Alfie, the 87 year-old waiter with a pace-maker, on his first day in the job. Clark’s comic actions, for ever falling backwards down the restaurant stairs, shaking uncontrollably when his pace-maker is turned up to revive him and generally being the butt of physical mishaps were uproariously funny. He is aided in delivering the food orders by waitress Karen, played with a straight face by Ann Lovell.
Add to this complex plot a rope-climbing Nun (Lucy Auva) and a small support case of cameo roles, to say the production was a hit is rather an understatement.
Charming songs covered scene changes; an amazing set was designed by Keith Orton and Robin Clark, Berry Butler contributed an apt wardrobe and there is a long list of backstage crew names, without whose help the production could not have been mounted.
Who was the Director who could envisage overcoming the show’s many vicissitudes, who could gather so much talent into one show and who could bring it all to such triumph – that amazing Director was Anne Gregory.