RICHARD Bean’s One Man Two Guvnors, a hilarious musical updating of Goldoni’s farce A Servant to Two Masters, is one of the great comedy hits of the 21st century.
And Merriman Productions, the first amateur company to acquire the performance rights in Somerset, are doing it proud at Somervale School in Midsomer Norton.
Like all great farces, the critical element of successful performance is timing, and it is only rarely that untrained actors can bring it off with panache. No worries here, though. Director Graeme Savage and his company have had the luxury of a long rehearsal period to perfect the falls and the near misses, and perfect they are.
This is the play that made an international star of portly James Corden in the role of Francis Henshall. He is the man around whom all the action revolves – in Goldoni’s original commedia dell’arte play the harlequin, the servant/chancer whose base tastes take him into all manner of scrapes.
Setting the story in the Brighton of the 1960s, with London gangsters taking the air and mods and rockers in the offing, our Francis is interested only in food (and women). Not getting enough of either with his new boss Roscoe Crabbe (who is actually Rachel, disguised as her murdered twin brother), he agrees to work simultaneously for Stubbers, who is actually Rachel’s murderous fiance. Neither knows the other is in town.
“Roscoe” is in Brighton to get engaged to Pauline, the intellectually challenged daughter of scrap merchant Charlie “The Duck” Clench, but she is in love with Alan Dangle, an existentialist budding actor much given to declaiming. He is the son of Clench’s Latin-spouting solicitor.
Put them together in a backstreet hotel, with an ancient waiter on a Pacemaker, identical trunks, facing rooms and a meal that must be served to both “masters” at the same time, and the stage is set for the sort of mayhem that elevates a great farce from the ordinary.
The Merriman cast leapt at the chance of performing Bean’s new classic, relishing every challenge it set.
Rob Cotterell is almost never off the stage as the opportunist Francis, whether he’s doing the crocodile roll with a trunk almost his own size, stuffing chicken quenelles in his mouth or even having a conversation with himself that rapidly progresses into a serious fight! He could not be bettered.
Owen Stephens is a wonderfully romantic Alan, with Meg Solomon cataclysmically stupid as Pauline, and Chris Parslow as her Duck father continuing the running joke about identical twins.
Rich Tottman has all the greasy suaveness of Stubbers, with Jason Cook getting the lion’s share of pratfalls as Alfred the ancient waiter.
There is not a weak link in this marvellous production, which also sees director Graeme leading the band and playing a waiter and a couple of taxi drivers into the bargain.
And talking of bargains … forget West End prices and rush to see One Man Two Guvnors at Midsomer Norton. Not much time left!