One Man Two Guvnors by The National Theatre
Grand Opera House, York
Until Sat March 14
Hoots. Shrieks. Guffaws. Snorts. Hyena howls. I have never heard a theatre audience laugh as long and as loud as at One Man, Two Guvnors, which started a week at the Grand Opera House on Tuesday (March 10).
During the restaurant scene, levels of hysterics rose to DefCon 1, which in theatrical terms means bodily fluids may leak and heart attacks are imminent.
The audience limped gratefully to the interval in order to dry their eyes – and other places – gather breath and brace themselves for part two of this exhilaratingly daft play.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, the plot. It is 1963 Brighton and busker Francis Henshall finds himself employed by both gangster Roscoe Crabbe (actually Rachel Crabbe, posing as her dead brother) and Stanley Stubbers (who killed Roscoe).
He’s earning double wages – but to keep this gravy train running, Francis must keep his two guvnors apart.
Here it is customary to add, “…and much hilarity ensues”. And it did.
There can be very few productions which work so hard, and so artfully, to entertain an audience. And none works with more intensity than Gavin Spokes, as Francis.
Whether performing acrobatics with a heavy trunk, rolling around the floor hitting himself, flying through doors as a manic waiter, or bantering with the audience, he busts half a dozen blood vessels to keep the laughs coming.
Considering York is the penultimate location for a 37 venue tour, you can only revere his unflagging energy levels. Add in brilliant comic timing, and a beautiful way with an aside, and Gavin can only be described as a tour de farce.
There are some brilliantly funny performances from the supporting cast. Patrick Warner puts in a pitch perfect turn as amiable public school duffer Stanley Stubbers, a sort of young Prince Charles with smaller ears and bigger laughs.
Flexi-kneed Edward Hancock as love-torn actor Alan Dangle took the flounce-o-meter up to Elton John levels. With his melodramatic pretensions and knife from Woollies, he wooed dim Pauline Clench, played to great comic effect by Jasmyn Banks.
The two other EastEnders escapees in the cast, Shaun Williamson (formerly Barry; here Charlie Clench) and Emma Barton (once Honey Mitchell, now Dolly) showed comic chops unrevealed in Albert Square.
And young Michael Dylan makes a tremendously tremulous old-stager as Alfie, the soup spilling, pacemaker-powered 84-year-old – a part originally written for York’s own Martin Barrass.
At one point in his audience joshing, Francis blurts: “This is not a panto, it’s the National bloody Theatre!”
In fact, panto is exactly what it is. It’s a high-fallutin’ panto, which is on a different planet from most traditional Christmas shows, and with added swearing.
No real surprise. One Man, Two Guvnors, written by Richard Bean, is based on The Servant Of Two Masters, a 18th century comedy by the playwright Carlo Goldoni written in the Commedia dell’Arte tradition – which went on to inspire British panto.
Panto-goers will recognise many of the elements – the audience participation, the slapstick scene in the restaurant, the cross dressing.
However, this is the National bloody Theatre: so you have a cast of towering talents, and direction by Nicholas Hytner and Adam Penford. The fun, therefore, never falters. We are even entertained before the show by skiffle group The Craze, and with musical numbers between each scene change.
To make something so ceaselessly, stupendously silly, is a magnificent achievement. Laughter is the best medicine, so everyone at the packed Grand Opera House should have a clean bill of health for at least the next six weeks.
Everyone who survived the comic onslaught, that is…