Torch Theatre Company’s 2017 Autumn production, a revival of One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest for their 40thAnniversary, saw standing ovations every night, something Artistic Director Peter Doran noted he hadn’t seen in 40 years of working in Theatre. The question was, how to follow such a success? The answer: Richard Bean’s adaptation of One Man, Two Guvnors.
The West End classic, one of the biggest theatre hits in 30 years, originated in Italy under the title ‘The Servant of Two Masters’ by writer Carlo Goldoni. One Man, Two Guvnors is best known for it’s 2011 West End run with James Cordon as lead character Francis Henshall, and has long been a favourite with audience members for its variety of comedy, live music and pantomime themes.
Torch Theatre company’s production, under Artistic Director Peter Doran, is absolutely brilliant. It manages to engage the audience throughout, becoming one of the most interactive plays I’ve seen, with an incredible slapstick and farcical humour as the characters (many of them quite ridiculous) move about the stage, led by Francis Henshall, trying to pursue their individual quests, always scuppered by something or someone.
By choosing such a challenging production, with a complicated set design and technical elements the creative and production teams have managed to exceed expectations. The sets (Sean Crowley) transport us from a 1960s London home with wing back chairs, to the streets of Brighton, complete with Pub The Cricketers Arms (one of many amusing references to Australia and cricket itself) and the final, most impressive set, Brighton pier and seafront, full of colour and with lit street lamps, complete with the rushing of the sea.
The live music is a nice addition to the production, helping to set the era, while entertaining as the production team to moves the ambitious sets around. It also gives a nice pause from the intensity of the characters, who become more animated as the play moves forward.
The production opens on Charlie ‘the duck’ Clench and his family. We learn that his daughter is to marry aspiring actor Alan Dangle (played brilliantly by Gwydion Rhys). Yet news comes to inform them that Roscoe Crabbe (Gabrielle Sheppard), a gay gangsta who Pauline has been promised to by Charlie, is not dead as suspected. Francis Henshall, Crabbe’s minder, comes to inform them of the news and to set the plays action into motion.
What follows is a hilarious tale of disguise, love triangles, gangster antics and all round incredible comedy as Francis fights to keep his two guvnors apart and Roscoe (his ‘twin’ sister Rachel in disguise) fights to save her man, Stanley Stubbers, (Roscoe’s murderer) from prison.
James Mack and Christian Patterson
Alex Parry and Charles Angiama
Christian Patterson is the star of the show as Francis Henshall. As soon as he steps on stage the audience loves him. A large man in a loud and ill-fitting suit, he commands the stage ad libbing and improvising as he goes. Henshall has two main loves in life, Book keeper, Dolly and food. He soon spots a way to gain an extra meal ticket when offered work by a second guvnor, Stanley Stubbers. However, he must keep them apart whatever the cost. His welsh origin adds a nice twist on the character, with little references to place names and welsh words along the way. One of Patterson’s best scenes, is where he becomes confused over his work for both guvnors and begins to argue with himself, escalating into a full on fight where he proceeds to swing himself around by his tie and crash a dustbin lid over his head. His alter ego ‘Paddy’ who he later blames for all the mischief he has caused, is a wonderfully funny creation. As he attempts to carry out a few River Dance steps on stage and talks to Charlie’s attractive bookkeeper in a bad Irish accent, the audience are in hysterics.
Peter Doran makes a great cameo as the elderly waiter, Alfie, and goes to great lengths to portray his part well. Dressed untidily in stained clothes, with a hunch back and stoop, he moves across the stage at a snail’s pace. Peter is a wonderful physical actor and it’s always a pleasure to see him on stage. The audience never tire of seeing him fall over, or be hit by a door repeatedly at the edge of the stage. These scenes have a Fawlty Towers feel about them, which the public love.
James Mack is Stanley Stubbers, Henshall’s upper class twit of a guvnor. Mack is extremely funny in his role, with a vocabulary that appears to become more imaginative as the play goes on, often causing smirks of amusement among the cast. Mack has great chemistry with the other cast members, working particularly well with Patterson (Henshall) and Sheppard (Crabbe). In the final scenes, when he is reunited with his beloved Rachel Crabbe at Brighton seafront, the over dramatic and ridiculous elements to his character are heightened to great comic effect.
Gwydion Rhys is fantastic as over the top aspiring actor Alan, who we learn amusingly chose the name Alan, as Orlando was already taken at his drama school. With slicked back hair and Shakespeare style goatee, he prances dramatically about the stage, his face serious, body thrust forward and hands elevated as if in constant acting mode. Over exaggerating his words, and speaking nonsense just for the sake of it. His ‘actor’ style is often mocked within the play, the irony not lost on the audience. He is brilliantly camp and ridiculous. This is a real role change for Rhys, who was last seen at the Torch Theatre in Owen Thomas’ The Wood, and shows his versatility as an actor.
Gabrielle Sheppard is admirable as Rachel Crabbe. She commands great stage presence and conveys the power and authority that Roscoe Crabbe has as a gangster. She has great chemistry with Patterson in particular and it’s comical to see Francis Henshall tremble in Crabbe’s presence.
Mention should also be made to other cast members. Alex Parry as retired gangster ‘Charlie Clench’ (also camp waiter, Gareth) and his similarly dim-witted daughter Pauline (Charlotte Workman). Torch regular Dion Davies, portrays the suave, Latin speaking Harry Dandle (Alan’s crooked solicitor father) a smaller part perhaps due to his recurring role as dame in the Torch Pantomime. Nicola Reynolds is fabulous as Charlie’s outspoken, feminist book-keeper Dolly, with beehive hair and bright pink heels. Lloyd Boateng (played by Charles Angiama) is Charlie’s friend, a West Indian ex con turned pub owner. A good turn by Angiana, who plays cheery Boateng as the voice of reason in a world of chaos.
Nicola Reynolds and Christian Patterson
Charlotte Workman, Nicola Reynolds and Gabrielle Sheppard
The improvisation element of the play added something extra for the audience. Seeing Francis Henshall among the crowd, involving audience members in hilarious antics, really pushed up the comedic value. As the play moved on the antics only became more hilarious, descending into complete chaos.
The focus on the actors and their interaction was so strong throughout this production that aside from the magnificent set design, not much else was needed.
The live music and soft lighting in places added the perfect finishing touch to a fabulous 2018 production. As the lights came up, the audience rose to its feet, offering a standing ovation on opening night.
Torch Theatre Company have proved, once again, that there is always room for West End worthy theatre in Pembrokeshire. One Man Two Guvnors, is a fantastically funny show, with a great cast, live music and a feel-good factor that is not to be missed. If you haven’t seen this show, you need to – you won’t be disappointed.
Until October 20
Images: Drew Buckley Photography
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