One Man Two Guvnors – Theatre Royal, Haymarket, December 2012

Is it a gig? Is it a play? Is it a musical..? Just one of the delight’s of the National Theatre’s  One Man Two Guvnors is that it is three nights rolled into one, a good ol’ fashioned rockin’ and rollin’ ruckus of a show!  Which might just be why it has already uplifted two wet winters and provided the soundtrack to two hot Summers in the UK and transferred to Broadway last year. It tells the story of a Governor who takes on the challenge of serving two masters, whilst endeavouring to keep the two of them apart! He inevitably encounters many problems and has many mishaps along the way…

Before the curtain even goes up, purely as a complement to those customary pre-theatre drinks and nibbles we are treated to live music from a band calling themselves “The Craze”. The music sounds like something half the audience half-remember from their childhood, or danced to as a teenager or 20-something, and the other half probably heard their parents play it at some point or heard in passing on radio two. Either way, it evocatively brings to life the lively style and fun of the music of the late 50s and early 60s; I believe the technical term for the style is “skiffle”. It is however actually an original soundtrack, with words and themes cleverly bended towards, but not explicitly relating to the course of the play. It sets the tone for the fun that is about to come.

The play actually has quite different origins to that of 1960s Brighton, it is based upon Servant of Two Masters (Arlecchino servitore di due padroni), an Italian Comedy from the 18th century. From this it takes the ‘stock’ characters and (then) controversial comedic subjects of adultery, jealousy, love, lust and old age. For us however in the debaucheries of the 21st century, the comedy is just good ol’ fashioned fun! I wouldn’t quite call it ‘clean’ though, the end of the first half gets very messy indeed (watch out, front row!) Think Seaside postcard humour, with lashings of slapstick and double-entendres a plenty. 

Owain Arthur, who plays the Guvnor is a natural comedian, delivering every line with a fresh and winning style that carries you playfully along with his every whim and never question the sincerity of his deception. He plays and adlibs with the audience with ease and genuine flair. Jodie Prenger gets some good laughs in there too, along with the rest of a very, very funny and highly energetic cast. You’ll warm up just watching them!

The nostalgia factor is of course a big draw too, it is a time period much harped back to at the moment in our culture. What with award winning Mad Men and then The Hour evoking the era on TV in recent years the trend was bound to come to the stage in good time, and what a treat that it has! The costumes and sets combine very well to this effect and oh,-what-fun it is (and always has been) to laugh at the past! At this gloomy time of year in an even gloomier economic climate, we could all use a bit of ol’ fashioned fun.

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