francis and Dolly

Love's sweet bloom: Francis, played by Gavin Spokes, awooing Dolly played by Emma Barton.  Pictures:: National Theatre / Johan Persson

One Man, Two Guvnors

Wolverhampton Grand

*****

YOU can count the number of plays that are as outlandishly and gloriously funny as this on one hand and probably have fingers to spare.

Richard Bean has taken Goldini’s 1746 funny and witty comedy, The Servant of Two Masters and transported it to 1960’s Brighton, complete with a resident skiffle group, set around The Cricketer’s Arms, a pub that actually exists.

The result is a sort of two hour long sketch full of schoolboy humour, running gags, congenital daftness, slapstick, smutty jokes, ham acting and moments which turn audience participation into an art form in itself.

In short, a night of very British silliness.

The plot, and yes there is one, is simple. Francis Henshall, played brilliantly by Gavin Spokes, has lost his job in a skiffle group, is broke and starving, so ends up working for Rachel Crabbe, played by Alicia Davies, who is impersonating her murdered brother Roscoe (don’t ask) and, unbeknown to Rachel, he also ends up working for Rachel’s beloved, ex-public school boy and qualified twit, Stanley Stubbers, played jolly well, what, by Patrick Warner.

That is really all you need to know. Hanging loosely on the main plot we have Brighton bad boy, the intellectually challenged  Charlie ‘The Duck’ Clench, scrap metal dealer and gangster, played by Shaun Williamson, whose daughter, the even less intellectually gifted Pauline, played by Jasmyn Banks, was going to be engaged to the dead Roscoe, but as the sausage rolls had been ordered for the arty, she is now getting engaged to Alan Dangle. alan and pauline

Do Keep up at the back!

Alan, a would be Thespian with the skills to give any production a winter . . .  and summer, spring and autumn of discontent, is played theatrically by Edward Hancock. Alan is the son of Harry, solicitor to the scum and friend of the fellon, who spouts courtroom Latin and is played with suitable verbosity by David Verry -  who in turn plays ukulele.

Nature's less than gifted Pauline, played by Jasmyn Banks and  the star crossed love of her life Alan, played by Edward Hancock

Then we have Lloyd, played by Derek Elroy who runs the Cricketers thanks to his chef training . . . courtesy of Parkhurst, and Dolly, played by with a seductive brashness and air of availability by Emma Barton, the buxom secretary of Charlie, and finally Alfie, the waiter, aged 87, powered by a pacemaker  and played in a masterclass of slapstick by Michael Dylan, who is regularly laid out by circumstance, usually in the shape of a door or the occasional cricket bat.

Add to that an ensemble of other character from fish and chip eating voyeurs to vicars to policemen and Colin, who lost two of his three lines to an audience intervention, and you have the complete show.

Put them together and the whole cast are superb with spot on timing and some beautifully cheesy acting when required in this wonderful National Theatre production.

And then there is the four man skiffle group, The Craze, complete with washboard, who sing between scene changes, before and after and in the interval, joined on stage occasionally by cast members, the women as a sort of Beverley Sisters, or the men playing steel drum (Lloyd), ukulele (Harry), horns (Stanley) vibes (Francis) and chest and stomach (Alan – don’t ask)

The show has evolved since it first opened in 2011, with subtle changes here and there with even the current production showing tweaks since it was last in the Midlands last year and it is a credit to the cast that it is as lively, fun and fresh now at the end of the tour as it was then, at the start of the 37 date tour.

If you want a show where laughs are guaranteed and you can leave your troubles behind for two hours and just enjoy yourself this is it. Solid gold entertainment. To 21-03-15.

Roger Clarke

17-03-15

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