"This isn't the bloody panto!" Ah, but Francis Henshall, it sure does feel like it. Carry On Guvnors, you might call it; a slapstick-filled pantomime for the big kids among us. Indeed, Richard Bean's One Man, Two Guvnors (based on the 1743 Italian comedy Servant of Two Masters) employs all the usual traits of a contemporary farce. It's loud, over-the-top and, occasionally, over-cooked. But it's also an absolute hoot, and in Gavin Spokes we have one of the most athletic theatrical turns of the year, our leading man utilising some handy improvisational skills to ensure frequent moments of hilarity.
Long story short, it's 1963, and Francis (Spokes, inset) has been called to Brighton, the clumsy clown landing two jobs for two 'guvnors'. One of 'em is a gangster called Roscoe, who's actually Roscoe's twin sister, Rachel, in disguise (the real gangster is dead); the other, posh-boy criminal, Stanley (Rachel's lover), who is responsible for Roscoe's death. Got it?
Good. So, it's in Henshall's interests that he prevent one employer from crossing paths with the other. Throw in a crazy family, an arranged marriage, an elderly Irish waiter, a small bout of schizophrenia (Henshall has a fist-fight with himself), and, oh yeah, a potential love interest for the servant, and you have a hell of a complicated storyline.
And yet, this outrageous, chaotic ensemble piece just about works. Breaking the fourth wall is one thing, but Spokes and his talented colleagues go way beyond the call of duty here, and there is a spot of audience participation involved. Bonkers stuff, for sure, but hey, it certainly isn't afraid to poke fun at itself. And, it even features a live band ('The Craze'). Ah yes, those foot-stomping skiffle tunes get my vote.
Running until Saturday HHHHP