Wales’ finest comedy troupe is celebrating its 10th anniversary by inviting us to us one hilarious party – and that is One Man, Two Guvnors.
There are two reasons to make absolutely sure that you have booked your tickets for this riotously funny show. The first is the wonderfully funny work itself, penned by Richard Bean, based on the 18th Century Commedia dell’arte The Servant of Two Masters by Italian playwright Carlo Goldoni. For this updating for today’s audiences, Bean has transposed the story from Italy to Brighton in 1963, the favourite haunt for London’s low-level criminal underworld wanting to lie-low and those seeking the proverbial dirty weekend away from the Big Smoke.
The central character (the Commedia dell’arte Harlequin in this take) is the hungry, dim but delightful, Welsh chancer Francis Henshall, played by the wonderful Gareth John Bale, an absolute stalwart of Black RAT’s shows over its 10 years of delighting audiences. As he explains in one of the many asides to the audience the tradition of this theatre genre is that he requires a motivation and in this play it is to get something to eat. Then in the second half of the show he seeks a higher goal, love (or at least a bit of rumpy pumpy).
Following the conventions of commedia dell-arte (the basis of Punch and Judy and pantomime) we have to have would be lovers (here two sets), a baddie (although really just naughty) and, of course, lots of humour and music. The humour is usually quiet dark (again think Punch and Judy seaside shows with lots of slapstick violence).
Francis is desperate for something to eat and after needs an employer so he can afford a meal. By a series of farcical events he finds himself not only with one guvnor, a woman, Rachel Crabbe, disguised as her dead twin brother, and then a second guvnor, a Flashman-style public school Hoorah Henry called Stanley Stubbers. Why are they both in Brighton? Well, Rachel is in love with Stanley, even though he has killed her brother, and he is on the run from the rozzers. They have planned to meet up in Brighton and plan their escape to Australia. To get the money to go down under Rachel decides to con Cockney geezer Charlie Clench, the father of her dead brother’s fiancé Pauline. You see Pauline is now in love with trainee actor Alan, son of lawyer to the underworld Lee Dangle. Pauline isn’t exactly heartbroken that her fiancé is dead, first he is a sadistic criminal and the second is he is homosexual and it was going to be a marriage of convenience.
The Guvnors, Phylip Harries, James Lawrence, Lee Gilbert, Daniel Miles and Chris Tummings
Gareth John Bale
What else do we need to know? Well, the action is largely in the lodgings where both of the guvnors are staying but are unaware that they are both there. Francis does not want the two different guvnors to know he is in each other’s employ and so the fast action slapstick routines are about how to keep them apart while racing from one to other carrying out the same tasks such as collecting and delivering letters, doing their ironing and serving them dinner in their lodgings. Add to this mix the larger than life Dolly, the bookkeeper of Charlie Clench’s dodgy business and his world wise long-term associate (and fellow jail-bird) Lloyd Boateng. Any more narrative details would ruin the fun and like most Commedia dell’arte stories, pantos and that other very British manifestation in the late 50s and early 60s, the Whitehall Farces, the story is just a ridiculous vehicle for the humour.
The cast alternate between players these daft characters and being musicians and singers in the band The Guvnors. The switching back and forward between dramatic roles and being musicians works well in enabling scene changes and a smooth flow of action while also being highly enjoyable renditions of songs from that skiffle and early rock’n’roll period.
The second reason why you really should not miss this show is the comic genius displayed by the entire ensemble.
Quite breathtaking is Gareth John Bale to the role of Francis, a virtuoso performance of physical and spoken comedy. He gives this lovable simple rogue a daft Welsh accent and keeps up a flow of ad libs, asides, quips and jokes with the audience while working through a relentless display of physical antics, from mime to slapstick. Interestingly, Bale has just directed a new play telling the story of Benny Hill, much of whose humour was developed from musical hall routines, his own version of slapstick, ridiculous characters, aside glances to camera, banter with live audiences and a very British seaside kiss-me-quick comedy. There is much of Benny Hill in Bale’s performance (the show even has a Benny Hill style chase with characters changing positions as they run back and fro across the scenery) along with a little Frankie Howerd, the master of the ad lib and naughty asides. The Francis (Frankie?) role is also very similar to Lurcio in Up Pompeii, the risqué and disaster prone servant who always has a mission (a motivation) but is always thwarted by misadventure.
Chris Tummings and Caryl Morgan
Gareth John Bale
Sarah-Jane Hopkins and Gareth John Bale
Daniel Miles and Alice Strachan
Alice Strachan and Sarah-Jayne Hopkins
As well as playing Charlie Clench, Phylip Harries plays a decrepit old waiter who is the fall guy for the set-piece in one door out the other farce as a meal is served to both guvnors. Lee Gilbert is often the straight guy for much of the humour, whether as the lawyer Harry Dangle, or another waiter in the restaurant and is the splendid lead singer in The Guvnors band. James Lawrence and Daniel Miles draw hilarious caricatures of the public school boy (rich and thick) and wannabe actor (ridiculously over theatrical). Caryl Morgan has a manly swagger when disguised as her dead brother and contrasts with the utterly dim Pauline Clench from Alice Strachan. Sarah-Jayne Hopkins revels in the blousy role of Dolly who is probably the only bright spark in the entire lot.
Director Richard Tunley yet again brings the whole zany affair into a slick theatrical experience, nicely designed by Anna Marie Hainsworth (particularly a backdrop of Brighton rock as perhaps homage to a gangster film of that era), lit by Robin Bainbridge and under the musical direction of Rob Thorne.
Images: Abigail Lewis Photography
Richard Tunley talks about directing One Man, Two Guvnors:
BLACKWOOD MINERS’ INSTITUTE
MAESTEG TOWN HALL
NEUADD DWYFOR, PWLLHELI
THEATR STIWT, WREXHAM
ABERYSTWYTH ARTS CENTRE
BOROUGH THEATRE, ABERGAVENNY
PONTARDAWE ARTS CENTRE
18 October 1.00pm
THE COLISEUM, ABERDARE
03000 040 444
THE LYRIC, CARMARTHEN
THE PARK & DARE
03000 040 444
CONGRESS THEATRE, CWMBRAN
GRAND PAVILION, PORTHCAWL
THEATR MWLDAN, CARDIGAN
THE HAFREN, NEWTOWN
THEATR BRYCHEINIOG, BRECON
4 November 7.45pm
ROYAL WELSH COLLEGE OF MUSIC & DRAMA
02920 391 391
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