NATIONAL Theatre Production: three words which for me ensure quality, high production values, top-class casting, attention to detail at every level, and a great programme, with plenty of quality background material. One Man, Two Guvnors lived up to these standards in every way possible. Most of what I had heard about the play was James Corden, and much of the physical comedy he devised with Director Nicholas Hytner remains in this production, as do some of the improvised, seemingly off-script, moments, where we are taken into a dangerous world far away from the storyline, as in a Pantomime or stand-up comedian’s routine, before a safe return to the actual story, and Gavin Spokes as the “Man” of the title played the role with great authenticity, almost convincing us that these moments were unscripted, although I think I would have believed a tuna sandwich more than a houmous one!
The great surprise to me was how wonderful the whole ensemble is – each playing their over-the-top caricature part to extreme, whilst supporting the other players. The plot in such a play is almost irrelevant, as long as it is clear, and as long as a few crises are developed which are resolved in time for a happy ending. What really matters here is that we are entertained; that we feel for the main characters, and that we are happy when all is resolved. For those in the know about theatrical tradition and Commedia dell’ Arte, the style in which the original Italian play A Servant of Two Masters is based, this production ticked all the necessary boxes, with the professional lawyer speaking Latin, a servant, who was a trained tumbler, ending up on the receiving end of many a kick, punch and door, and all of the cast performing musical numbers during scene changes, making the evening one of variety, not just drama. The slapstick was slick and hilarious, and the pace of the whole show was very fast.
Special mention must be made of the band, The Kraze (it took me until Act Two to say it aloud and work out the link with 1960s criminal underworld) started before the show, on stage, as a skiffle band, and progressed to a beat combo in the second half, casually strolling from pit to stage to entertain during scene changes, and accompanying other ensemble members on their songs and other musical entertainment. All the music was original, but cleverly derivative, so that you felt you almost recognised skiffle hits, 60s pop songs and a wonderful Beverley Sisters style trio sung in close harmony by the three female protagonists.
This is a world-class production, slick on every level, and well worth seeing. Yes, it has a few ex-soap actors in it, but you soon forget they were Honey, Alice and Barry, as they prove from their first utterance the quality necessary to get most people onto television in this country. Every single member of the ensemble and band bring a high level of energy and quality to this show, and leave you thoroughly entertained. It’s at Bristol this week, and on tour until at least March next year – catch it if you can.
Monday 9 June 2014