I’ve never been the biggest fan of farce. I never seem to find them remotely as funny as the majority of the audience. I think it’s all a bit predictable; you know that the master of the house will open the front door to find the local vicar on roller-skates, in an uncompromising position with his wife. Or that the snooty hotel inspector has his soup splattered across his face by a clumsy, rotund chef in spotty boxer shorts because the sous-chef flambéed his trousers.
I can’t for a moment pretend I have anything remotely highbrow in my humour locker; I find a well-timed fart as funny as the next man, but aside from the choreography, I’ve always found the well-rehearsed nature of farce to be a little vacuous.
One Man, Two Guvnors at the Theatre Royal, however, is different.
A new cast moved to a new venue at the beginning of the month, replacing their James Corden-led counterparts. Owain Arthur takes over the lead, playing Francis Henshall, the sacked skiffleboard player, driven onto the streets of 1960s Brighton. Poor and hungry (to the extent where he eats an envelope), coincidence lands him with the job of looking after the interests of two bosses, both unaware of his dual employment. His guvnors are Stanley Stubbers, a toff from the Blackadder Lord Flashheart mould, played brilliantly by Ben Mansfield and Rachel Crabbe (Gemma Whelan), posing as her twin criminal boss brother Roscoe, whom Stubbers killed. No problem.
The play’s most famous scene sees Henshall serve his two guvnors dinner at the same time, keeping most of the food to himself, and maintaining their lack of knowledge of the other’s presence.
Members of the audience (at least you think they are) are called on stage and showered with water and fire extinguisher foam, a trembling octogenarian waiter repeatedly falls down a staircase, only to bounce back again with each course. Classic farce, sure. But strangely, I found myself really enjoying One Man, Two Guvnors in a way that I haven’t experienced with farce before.
I think it’s because it achieves something close to the exclusivity of live stand-up comedy. Many of the lines could be straight from Gavin and Stacey but the live interaction with the audience is integral to the play. The actors deliver their lines in a way that keeps the spectators party to every joke, and there are some classic one-liners, but it’s the way they play off audience reaction that is the key. I won’t describe some of the best ‘live’ moments because, ironically, I’m only too aware that they’re all part of the script, and it would reveal too much for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet, but there is commendable skill in the way they present it.
It’s a classic piece of British comedy, playing on all our favourite genres of sexual innuendo, toilet humour, sarcasm and slapstick. The wheeler-dealer father, the peroxide blonde daughter, the try-hard thespian, the lawyer, the toff, the gangster, the bobby and the waiter, you can enjoy all manner of British stereotype on display. It is a farce but it’s a highly enjoyable night out.
by Edward Lines