The Torch Theatre have chosen to bring back One Man, Two Guvnors as their Autumn Production for 2019, following the unfortunate cancellation of the show’s run at the half way point in 2018, due to a severe eye injury of the main actor. This means, not only, the chance for audiences to see this fabulous show for a second time at the Torch Theatre, or for those who missed out last year, to see it this time around, but also a number of new cast members ( as well as solid favourites, Christian Patterson, Dion Davies and James Mack returning) and a fresh look to the show.
It appears, the Torch Theatre have surpassed their previous production, and added to something which was already a roaring success. There are more jokes, bigger shocks, brighter costumes and more variety of music…only the Torch can outdo their own production.
Richard Bean’s adaptation takes the original story, a 1743 commedia dell’arte style comedy, A Servant of Two Masters, written by Italian playwright Carlo Goldoni, and makes it work in a very British sense, with locations being changed to London and Brighton. Doran, who directs and also stars as the wonderfully hilarious ancient waiter Alfie, takes Bean’s adaptation to a whole new level, with a wonderfully Welsh feel, thanks also to lead actor Christian Patterson as Francis Henshall.
Patterson returns in the role he seems born to play, as food obsessed Welsh Man Henshall who, having been fired from his Skiffle Band and in his search for the next meal ticket, finds himself with two guvnors and a rather attractive love interest in secretary, Dolly, (fabulously played by Sarah Annis).
The play begins with the engagement party of dippy Pauline (a welcome return by Torch regular Miriam O’Brien) and her fiancé, trainee actor Alan Dangle (George Naylor). News soon arrives that Roscoe crabbe (a notorious London gangster who was murdered by his twin sister Rachel’s lover) is still very much alive and seeking marriage to Pauline, as promised by her Father, Charlie ‘The Duck’ Clench. Henshall is the hilarious messenger, and here begins his farcical journey with the two guvnors, he must keep apart. It appears that Roscoe’s twin sister Rachel is impersonating her brother in order to secure money from Pauline’s Father and elope with her lover, Stanley Stubbers (James Mack has made this role his own) to save him from a life behind bars. With Henshall in the middle of the drama, what ensues is a hilarious, slapstick tale of love triangles, mistaken identity, and some of the best one liners and physical comedy on stage in years.
The brilliant interactive element of this play, where actors appear to ‘come out’ of their characters and speak, even mingle with the audience adds another level to the production. The viewers are part of the show, in on the jokes, and very much involved with the outcome.
The sets are beautifully designed by Sean Crowley (and built by Sam Wordsworth), with multidimensional features that bring the story to life. The stage is transformed from a 1960’s home, to an East London street and interior of The Cricketers Arms pub, as well as a colourful Brighton seafront, complete with rushing waves.
The lighting, by Ceri James, helps to emphasise the story, with harsh lighting to illuminate the absurd characters, their comical expressions and ridiculous actions as well as some softer lighting sequences to emphasise some heart warming moments towards the end of the play.
The musical direction (Lloyd Grayshon) deserves a mention too. It is seamlessly integrated with the action of the play, with the smooth appearance of microphones from beneath the stage floor (the tech team have worked hard to ensure the success of many tricks), to a variety of new faces who offer extra vocals and new instruments. In this version of the production, the musical element seems to excel, adding a nice interlude from the drama, as well as fitting music of the period and impressive vocals/instrumental from the cast as well as chief vocalists and guitar players Lloyd Grayshon and Jerome Davies. The audience really seemed to enjoy this part of the show.
As Henshall, Patterson nearly steals the show, although his interaction with Mack as Stanley Stubbers, an upper class criminal, with a wonderfully ridiculous vocabulary, provides many of the best scenes. At times, it’s difficult to tell where the script ends and the ad libbing begins, as both actors smirk and laugh at each others words. There are some wonderful moments of physical acting from both of them, as they march about the stage. Henshall is a nervous, quivering wreck, in an ill-fitting suit and with a penchant for the ladies. He is constantly distracted by food and ‘The Duck’s’ feminist secretary Dolly. He is terrible at his job, but the audience grow to love him. His child-like grin is infectious, his difficulties become ours too. Midway through the first act, the audience’s involvement leads to hilarious consequences.
Stubbers, played brilliantly by James Mack, strides about the stage, full of confidence and witty one liners, in search of his lover Rachel, who is in hiding as her twin brother Roscoe. He is ridiculous yet extremely likeable. He has great chemistry with Emma Mulkern, who lays Rachel Crabbe, and some of their final romantic scenes together when they are reunited on Brighton seafront are the funniest of the whole show.
Mulkern impresses in her debut role for the Torch Theatre Company. Acting in twin roles, as Roscoe (Rachel in disguise) and then Rachel herself, she commands the stage, switching between postures, expressions and voices with ease.
Doran makes a welcome return in his cameo as Alfie, the ancient waiter of the Cricketers Arms. Doran is a wonderful physical actor and this role lends itself to him perfectly. We laugh as he limps about the stage, bent over, with hunch and muttering swear words, gesturing with his hands. Even on second watching, Doran adds something to the character, as in slapstick fashion, he repeatedly gets hit with a door, falling down the stairs, then flies across the stage after Stubbers’ ill judgement to adjust his pacemaker backfires.
Dion Davies, known most for his role as the Dame in the Torch pantomime, plays a smaller role as Harry Dangle, Charlie’s solicitor and Alan Dangle’s Father. Davies presents Dangle as a smartly dressed, confident and well-educated man. He is often the voice of reason when the characters get into trouble.
Marcus Knibbs, who has played many ‘baddie’ roles for the Torch Theatre, returns this season to take the role of Charlie Clench. The part suits him and he plays it with great conscience. One moment Clench is squaring up to Roscoe, his voice gruff as he promises him his money, the next he is crying into his handkerchief about Pauline’s Mother abandoning him for Spain. Knibbs suits the London Gangster role, and brings a nice air of authority and strength to the role. He works well with the other cast members.
O’Brien, Annis and Naylor all do well in their supporting roles. O’Brien makes a welcome return to the Torch, in her role as the dim Pauline, who utters the words ‘I don’t understand’ more than anything else. Yet she is likeable, and she is one of several strong women in the play.
As Charlie ‘The Duck’s’ daughter, she has been promised to Roscoe, the homosexual gangster who they believed was dead. When she discovers he isn’t, she fights against her Father to marry for love. On discovering that Roscoe is really Rachel, in disguise, she vows to help her in any way she can.
Sarah Annis, is great as Dolly. A role that might not appear to give much room for improvement. Yet Annis offers her own interpretation of Dolly, the liberal woman who works, drives and believes that there is more to life than being some man’s sex object. Wiggling across the stage in a tight pencil skirt, pink heels and a pink bow in her red beehive, she is the epitome of the confident 60’s woman. She puts Henshall, as well as many other male characters in their place. Yet Annis adds a level of vulnerability to her which makes the character far more interesting.
George Naylor plays trainee actor, Alan Dangle, Pauline’s intended and an unpredictable, loose canon. Naylor strides about the stage, his body thrust outwards, hands outstretched, over accentuating random words of Shakespeare and nonsensical sentences. He declares his love for Pauline using terrible metaphors and in an over dramatic way and she reciprocates, not really understanding the sentiment, making it all the more humorous. Some of the funniest scenes feature Naylor striding about the stage at inconvenient moments, interrupting other characters and getting himself deeper into trouble. His reaction to believing Pauline has chosen Roscoe, is like something from Shakespeare itself. There are some clever in jokes with the audience about his role as an actor, and the way he portrays himself, which were well received.
Charles Angiama also returns to play Lloyd Boateng, friend to Charlie and ex con. With a cheery smile and a few words of wisdom, he saves the day for Stanley and Rachel. He is also a loyal friend and confident to Charlie. His asides to the audience about his past and the place he learned his skills, are met with laughs. Angiama has a great charisma about him and it would be great to see him in bigger roles at the Torch.
In bringing back this production of One Man, Two Guvnors to the Torch Theatre, Peter Doran has ensured another successful show reaches out to audiences in Pembrokeshire and beyond. It’s clear to see that the production has strengthened, the existing cast and crew have settled further into their roles, creating great chemistry with new members. By adding extra details into the script, the set, the wardrobe and the production itself, Torch Theatre Company have improved on a successful classic.
This show won’t fail to make you laugh, it’s a warm and witty production, with a brilliant cast, some fabulous one liners and enchanting live music. Not to be missed!
Until November 16