There was an air of excited anticipation in the Guildhall last night, as the curtain rose on the East Midlands amateur premiere of hit comedy ‘One Man, Two Guvnors’.
This was Grantham Dramatic Society’s latest production, and unlike many of their most recent shows, including ‘Allo ‘Allo, Fawlty Towers and Blackadder Goes Forth, it was a comedy that was largely unknown to the audience.
Perhaps what most people will already know about the play, is the success it garnered for James Corden in the central role, including the coveted Tony Award for Best Actor when it transferred to Broadway.
Indeed, the perpetually ravenous and incessantly beleaguered servant of two masters, Francis Henshall, is a brilliant comic creation, who the talented Steve Sale evidentally enjoyed getting his teeth into. He might have been playing the part of a lackey, but he completely governed the play, with impeccable comic timing and a grasp of physical comedy worthy of any professional.
He was ably supported by a cast of GDS regulars, with great interplay between him and Helen Pack as the not-to-be-trifled-with Dolly, while Paul Meakin as the unlikely murderer Stanley Stubbers, and Tami Brown as Rachel, a.k.a. Roscoe Crabbe, complemented and contrasted each other as Francis’ two ‘guvnors’.
Meanwhile the traditional pair of lovers were subverted by Suzanne Stevens as the ditsy Pauline Clench, and GDS newcomer Nick Rowe as hopeless romantic and hopeless actor Alan Dangle.
The sets and costumes took us back to the swinging 60’s, as did the live music during scene changes performed by Nick Croft and John Clark of popular Grantham band ‘The Bluesbursters’.
At certain points in the play it felt like the screws could have been tightened a bit, in order to maintain more of the frantic pace that is so synonymous with farce, but when the action did run like clockwork, most notably during the dining scene inside the much-admired ‘pub with a restaurant’, it was a joy to behold. The art of farce is to give an outward appearance of total chaos, when in fact the actors are hitting every comic beat with total precision, and this is what the cast did here.
This stand-out scene made full use of the age-old device of having three entrances, from which characters who must be kept apart repeatedly appeared and disappeared, used so successfully in other classically inspired farces like ‘A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum’.
The hilarity was heightened by a delightfully doddery Mark Brown, as 87-year-old waiter Alfie on his first day, while Sale was once again relishing his role just as much as the endless supply of food.
Not wishing to give too much away, the use of audience participation in this scene resulted in one of the funniest sequences running up to an interval I have ever seen.
Another star of the show is the script. It is the wonderful work of Richard Bean, who was inspired by Carlo Goldoni’s 1746 masterpiece a ‘Servant of Two Masters’. Not only did Bean’s dialogue capture the mood and vernacular of 1960s Brighton, to where the action was relocated, but the jokes came quick and fast.
There were also knowing nods to the play’s ‘Commedia dell’arte’ origins, such as when Henshall identifed himself as the harlequin in one of his many amusing addresses to the audience. This clever moment of metadrama showed respect to the source text, before pulling it apart with Henshall’s next line, highlighting that this play is to be enjoyed by all.
And if the reaction of the audience is anything to go by, it certainly was.
* ‘One Man, Two Guvnors’ runs from May 11 to 14, with curtain up at 7.30pm nightly.
Tickets are £9, or £8 for concessions, and are on sale from the Guildhall Arts Centre on 01476 406158, or book online via www.granthamdramaticsociety.co.uk.
GDS also welcomes new members, and encourages anyone interested in theatre to get in touch.