Guest Reviewer: Michelle Jacobs
Hornchurch and Derby Theatre co-production of One Man, Two Guvnors is for the cast and audience to appear to be as one. His farcical snapshot of 1960s Britain is based on Carlo Goldoni's The Servant of Two Masters, written in 1746 in the Italian commedia dell'arte (or professional comedy) style with its trademark emphasis on improvisation giving each performance a uniqueness while using stock themes, characters and plot.
Director Sarah Brigham has certainly gone to great lengths to stay true to the historical roots of the play. From the time the audience enters, the invigorating sight and sound of the impeccably polished skiffle band, 'The Rozzers' sets the period tone perfectly as we are transported seamlessly into the world of minder, Francis Henshall and his very human struggles to serve two employers and keep them apart. The plot, itself, is somewhat thin revolving round the vaguely Shakespearean themes of star-crossed lovers, mistaken identity, gender-swap twins and the achievement of the underdog in a revelatory and joyous final scene. However, as in the tradition of farce, the plot is simply a vehicle for a range of theatrical techniques.
David O'Reilly in the principal role of Francis, proves to be a master at slapstick, comic timing and improvisation, with an ability to engage with audience members which left one confused what was genuine and what was a set up. I do believe, however, that he might have spent a little too long looking at clips of James Corden playing the role in the original 2011 National Theatre version.
Jack Brett cuts a suitably fey figure as the pretentious and intensely love-lorn would-be actor, Alan Dangle and he too confidently breaks the fourth wall in his delivery of knowing lines about the theatrical world.
David Cardy might be better known by audience members of a certain age as Chris Theodopolopodous, Cockney wide boy husband of Pauline Quirke in the 90s sitcom, Birds of a Feather and his casting as Charlie 'The Duck' Clench allows him to play to his strengths.
Samantha Hull is the embodiment of the dizzy blonde, Pauline Clench in complete contrast to Alice Frankham's sharp-witted and enigmatic Rachel/Roscoe Crabbe.
George Kemp makes a dashing and endearingly charming 'nice but dim' figure as Stanley Subbers while Rosie Strobel as Dolly lights up every scene she is in with her engaging and identifiable humanity.
Duane Hannibal, Craig Armstrong and Ivan Stott provide solid, characterful supporting performances and TJ Holmes puts in a creditable attempt at portraying the ancient waiter, Alfie to hilarious effect in the dinner scene even if the actor's obvious youth meant the staggering was a little overplayed.
Neil Irish's set design successfully conveys an appropriate period feeling and allows for the demands of fast-moving physical comic theatre. Having 'The Rozzers' entertain front of stage between scene changes adds to the immersive experience. Costumes also reliably define the characters wearing them. The wardrobe of O'Reilly's Francis appears to be a particularly faithful reproduction of Corden's.
This is not a risk-taking production of One Man, Two Guvnors. It does not really break any new ground in its solidly accomplished display of a historical theatrical style. What it does though, is give the audience a jolly good, old-fashioned belly laugh.