One Man, Two Guvnors – Derby Theatre – Review

One ManTwo Guvnors, written by Richard Bean, is based upon the 1746 Italian comedy ‘The Servant of Two Masters’ by Carlo Goldoni. It takes elements from commedia dell’arte and the British farce, whilst creating something that feels completely fresh and unique. When it premiered in 2011 at the National Theatre, it was a hit. It transferred to the west end, found success on Broadway and made a name for James Corden in the titular role.

Many UK and International productions have been and gone since its professional debut and now Derby Theatre are taking on this popular play, alongside Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch, with established Derby Theatre director Sarah Brigham at the helm.

Once I entered the theatre to take my seat, the atmosphere was already full of excitement, thanks to the wonderfully talented Skiffle band (aptly named ‘The Rozzers’). This was a welcome addition to get the audience ready for a few hours in 1960s Brighton.

From here, the farcical plot ensues. Francis Henshall (David O’Reilly) an ‘out of work’ Skiffle player, is skint and hungry. He finds a job as a minder for a gangster named Roscoe Crabbe. What Francis doesn’t know is his new guvnor is Roscoe’s sister Rachel (Alice Frankham) in disguise, as her own dead brother, who has been killed by Stanley Stubbers (George Kemp).

To complicate things further, Francis gets a second job working for Stanley Stubbers who is on the run from the police (still with me?!) He has one job…keep his two guvnors away from one another, whilst trying to get a decent meal in the process.

Physical comedy and perfect comic timing is crucial to the play’s success and the cast have it in abundance. David O’ Reilly’s energetic monologues, full of clumsy confusion and frustration, were a treat to behold. He had the audience rolling in the aisles with his exaggerated physicality and clever asides. I hope he gets high praise from audiences and critics alike.

The stand out performance for me was from George Kemp, playing the ‘boarding school trained’ posh boy Stanley, who delivers some of the best one-liners in the show which had me in hysterics. He played his part with such conviction and exuberance; all it took was a look to get me chuckling once more.

I must give a special mention to TJ Holmes, who plays the Octogenarian waiter Alfie in one of the best scenes of the play. He has created the perfect ‘slap stick’ character here, which could be so easy to get wrong. (I lost count of how many times the poor man had to get pushed down a flight of stairs for our enjoyment!). That being said, this really is a true ensemble piece and the chemistry between all 11 actors shows.

Neil Irish’s inventive set design is in keeping with the bold energy seen on stage. Brightly coloured/garish facades are created by using simple set pieces and interchangeable (purposefully) painted flats; from the Pub to the Pier. Due to these sizeable scene changes, there is quite a bit of time to fill before the next scene starts but thanks to the fantastic band (a definite highlight of the evening) they play some great 60s inspired tunes to keep the audience entertained, so there is never a dull moment.

There were a few pacing issues, some dialogue couldn’t be heard at times and some jokes fell a little flat but I have a feeling this show will become slicker as the run progresses and the actors settle into their roles. This play is no mean feat and the cast are certainly doing it justice.

If you’re up for a ‘laugh out loud’ night at the theatre, this production has much to offer and you won’t leave disappointed!  Catch it at Derby Theatre until the 28th September 2019.

Review by Elena Fox.

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