One Man Two Guvnors, Studio Theatre, Salisbury

IN the old days of classic Whitehall farce, the set designers had an easy job. They built a classic box set and put in as many doors round the sides as possible. Then the actors dashed at break-neck speed through them, often changing not just direction but costume and character backstage. And then of course the main characters dropped their trousers.

Not so in the 21st century, when the availability of technological gizmos allows much more demanding and complicated sets. Which is all fine if you are the National Theatre or one of the big professional producing houses, but not so good for amateur companies in cramped volunteer-run theatres.

This problem was writ large for the Salisbury Studio Theatre production of Richard Bean’s One Man Two Guvnors, with its fledgling director Antonia Harding, taking on her first full-length play. The play is a brilliant updating of Goldoni’s 1745 play Il servitore di due padroni, (The Servant of Two Masters). It’s set in the swinging 60s, mostly in Brighton, where members of competing criminal families are trying to out-do one another, funny money is being passed along the line and plots are being hatched. Into this villainous melee comes Francis Henshall, a man so perpetually hungry that all other considerations are ignored. He takes on two jobs so that he can eat more. His new bosses are crime boss Charlie the Duck Clench and the public school educated gangster Stanley Stubbers, beloved of Rachel Crabbe, who is currently impersonating her twin brother who was engaged to The Duck’s daughter and has been murdered … by Stanley Stubbers. And that is just the easy bit.

As Francis (the role created by James Cordon in London) dashes between potential meals and demanding bosses, other important and extraneous people get called in to the increasingly complicated action, which is set in The Duck’s home, the local pub, and a top of the stairs corridor in the Brighton pub which in turn leads to two other private dining rooms. All this calls for intricate scene changing, which, if the play is to succeed, must be as fast and furious as the action. Perhaps when the Salisbury production is bedded down, it will attain that speed and precision.


There are some wonderful performances in the Studio show – perhaps led by Emily Casselton as Pauline Clench, daughter of Alistair Faulkner’s Charlie the Duck. She is perfectly hilarious, with no hint of caricature. Jamie Pullen takes on the central role of Francis with charming aplomb and ferocious energy, and Rachel Fletcher skips between characters with her usual skill. Will Eamer plays Stubbers in the manner of a Rees-Mogg, and Jacob Franks enjoys every moment as the actorish Alan. The other parts are played by Clare Green as Rachel Crabb, Richard Knight as a bent lawyer and a camp waiter, Simon Carter as the landlord-chef, Matthew Hodge as an ancient waiter and Claire Martin as more or less everyone else.

Antonia Harding has brought some enjoyably fresh ideas to the show, but it really does need a steadier and tighter hand. Perhaps all the glitches will be ironed out by the time you see it.


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