By Mike Savill
One of the challenges in putting on a play as well known as ‘One Man, Two Guvnors’ is how to capture the essence of the production which made it famous and yet give it an identity of its own. There is no right or easy way of making it work, and the proof of the pudding is definitely whether the audience have had a good time or not come curtain down. Such was the task facing the directorial team of Pauline and Dan Armour with this popular but hugely demanding show.
From the very off, a piece like this is all about the casting and the Armours had, here, pulled together names old and new to bring life to the comedic elements which so forcefully drive the play. At its heart is Francis, the ‘Man’, who, whilst contending with his various vices, tries farcically to balance his responsibilities towards his two unknowing employers. Newcomer, Joseph Spinks, brought a naif, cheeky chappy charm to the role, undoubtedly influenced by James Corden’s now celebrated portrayal (after all it was written with him in mind) and providing the necessaries in terms of physicality, timing and improvisation so important to the role. Sensitive to others – here is a part that can very easily become overplayed at the expense of the company – Spinks demonstrated astute improvisational skills and clearly engaged himself to the audience with confidence and gusto making him a pleasure to watch.
As one ‘guvnor’, Stanley Stubbers, Howie Ripley was in fine scenery chomping form, delivering a variant of the ‘nice but dim’ public school type with vigour and energy and a couple of ‘knob gags’ thrown in for good measure. Ripley’s joie de vivre and natural presence made for some hilarious theatre and, for me, it is always good to see him at his unrestrained best.
In juxtaposition, Jaimi Keemer as Francis’s other ‘guvnor’ and Stanely’s lover Rachel – or is that Roscoe? (it’s complicated)- proved as watchable as ever. With a well observed arsenal of masculine moves and traits she inhabited the gangster type with the kind of androgynous menace that is so important to the role and exhibited the comic timing which is a keystone of those performances of hers I have seen. That said, I was slightly confused by the choice of rather feminine footwear in her role of Roscoe which seemed a little at odds with the conceit of disguised gangster and somewhat gave the game away but ‘twould be churlish to quibble about a brogue or two.
Emma Sweeney’s Dolly provided further evidence of her impressive character acting skills with a brassy sassiness that held the stage with a real presence and Northern charm, and a bra that defied gravity and defined the very nature of femininity in the 1960s!
Mention must also go to Martin Bunyan as Alfie, the octogenarian waiter on his first day at the Cricketers Arms, a role which, when skilfully delivered, can become a true scene-stealer despite a paucity of lines. Channelling Blakey on the Buses and Albert Steptoe, his physicality was spot on and provided many a laugh in his luckless encounters with opening doors, flying trolleys and corkscrews.
I could go on, this is undoubtedly an ensemble piece after all, but to meticulously comment on every performance is not within the scope of my word count. Suffice to say that there were engaging turns from all which worked together to drive the show on to its increasingly farcical conclusion. And it was nice to see a surprise cameo or two unique to the evening (Enter Pauline Armour stage left, holding up the show!).
Further novelty was offered in the shape of ‘The Grubs’, a specially formed skiffle group who played in both halves, and evoked a marvellous sense of period with their repertoire. That said, once the play was done it did feel a like a postscript too far, I would have preferred that they played us out of the auditorium as we left rather than a bonus set which followed the show’s conclusion. To me it didn’t quite sit right once the play was at an end but, as is oft the case, that is personal choice and many enjoyed the undoubted musical talents displayed throughout the company.
Here is a play, then, which has to be delivered as high energy farce and this BLT rendering definitely went for it with gusto. With quick changing and effectively functioning sets, a solid pace was maintained by all involved making sure the vast majority of the audience left being royally entertained which, as said, is the essence of such a show. A sell out then and an audience pleaser and on it goes to Hever. Truly, as the finale of the play states, ‘Tomorrow Looks Good From Here’.