Review: One Man, Two Guvnors, Derby Theatre

The award-winning One Man Two Guvnors isn’t an easy play to produce. The deliberate chaos has a frenetic pace. It’s an organised mess of one-liners, elaborate running gags, clowning, innuendo, slapstick and farce and it’s outrageously funny. 

This a show that needs the right team to make it work and with director Sarah Brigham as the Guvnor you can be assured that the team is excellent and the production top-notch.

What really shines through in Brigham’s production is the chemistry between the whole cast. They are genuinely having fun on stage and it’s so infectious they spread joy throughout the theatre. The whole audience was experiencing eye-watering comic hysteria practically throughout.

Not only that, the set by Neil Irish was incredible, and The Rozzers Skiffle Band playing Grant Olding’s toe-tapping songs would have been entertainment enough on their own. 

One Man Two Guvnors is Richard Bean’s terrific revamp of Carlo Goldoni’s much-loved commedia dell’arte farce, A Servant Of Two Masters.  Directed by Nicholas Hytner and starring James Corden in the title role it opened at the National Theatre in 2011 and after a UK tour went to the West End and Broadway. It never made it to Derby, but who cares, this home-produced show has more than made up for it. 

That, in large part, is down to David O’Reilly, who completely stormed it in the central role as the hilarious Francis Henshall.

It was almost as if the role was written for him as he revealed his own mischievous personality, cocking his head with a twinkle in his eye as he sent the audience into raptures. O’Reilly clearly wasn’t fazed by Corden’s much-lauded performance that went before him and he firmly put his own stamp on the part. 

Bean’s play is set in 1963 Brighton, as out-of-work skiffle player Francis Henshall becomes separately employed by two men – Roscoe Crabbe, a gangster, and Stanley Stubbers (George Kemp), an upper class twit. 

Francis tries to keep the two from meeting, in order to avoid each of them learning that he is also working for someone else. 

Complicating events, Roscoe is really Rachel Crabbe (Alice Frankham) in disguise, her twin brother Roscoe having been killed by her boyfriend, who is none other than Stanley. 

Meanwhile local hard man Charlie ‘the Duck’ Clench (David Cardy), has arranged his daughter Pauline’s engagement to Roscoe despite her love for wannabe actor Alan Dangle (Jack Brett).

Chaos ensues prompted by several letters, a very heavy trunk and Alfie (T J Holmes), an octogenarian who is working his first day as a waiter who stumbles and pratfalls his way through dinner service in a performance that is superb and totally unforgettable.

Samantha Hull is delightful as the ineffably dimwitted daughter Pauline, of whom her own father declares “They’ve tried but they can’t make bricks thicker” and Rosie Strobel was glorious as the wiggling, sexy bookkeeper Dolly.

The rest of the cast were Craig Armstrong, as Gareth, Duane Hannibal as Lloyd Boateng, Ivan Stott as Harry Dangle and Roberto Boyle, Dylan Bull, Megan Clark and Karen Lawley in the ensemble. The Rozzers were Dominic Gee-Burch, Oraine Johnson, Jay Osborne and Tomas Wolstenholme. The lighting was by Tim Skelly and the musical director was Kelvin Towse.

Twitter was trending with talk of ‘belly-aching laughs” within minutes of the final curtain last night and there was a cheering standing ovation for the cast and musicians. It really was that fantastic. This is a brilliant show and everyone should go and see it before it ends on September 28. Tickets are selling fast so go to today.