As a theatregoer, there’s nothing quite like being part of a riotous audience united in joyous laughter. And lucky for me, that was exactly my experience at David Downing’s newest production at the People’s Theatre.
It’s easy to see why the play has been such a hit in its relatively short history (it’s only a few years old, premiering in London in 2011.) Packed with laughs and physical japes, it really is laugh-out-loud stuff. The plot is based on Carlo Goldini’s Italian play Servant Of Two Masters, and see Francis Henshall, starving and desperate for money (to alleviate that hunger) bag jobs with two dodgy employers. What follows is a breathless, dizzying romp that sees Henshall try everything in his power to get paid, all whilst keeping his two bosses away from each other.
It is set in 1963 and uses a skiffle band to set the seaside scene. It’s all Brighton beach, the Beatles and the radical idea that a “pub that sells food” is part of a bright new future in England and that the worst thing that could happen to a man would be to emigrate to Australia. This allows for spate of hilariously non-PC one-liners that the abject horror that awaits ex-pats in Oz is all “BBQs, lager and opera.”
Richard Gardner is nothing short of phenomenal in the role of Henshall. It’s a part he has played before – at the Queen’s Hall Theatre Club – and it’s clear it’s one he revels in. It would fall flat in the hands of a lesser performer but here, thankfully, it does not. Not only a master of physical comedy, he radiates star quality. Remember this name.
His comedic sparring partner Jake Wilson Craw as the cringey toff Stubbers must also be mentioned. The perfect antidote to Gardner’s slapstick, Craw gets most of the dry one-liners (“My clothes stink. I smell like a doctor’s finger”) and gives a meticulous turn in stick-up-the-arse acting, all the more funny because people like Stubbers actually still exist. Amy Herdman as Crabbe and Emma Jane Richards as Pauline are wonderful – I loved Herdman in a previous production of Jumpy at the same theatre and was pleased to see she was on form again here.
My favourite performance though, apart from Gardner’s star turn, was Nathan Hussain’s over-the-top amateur actor, Alan Dangle. A ridiculous parody of a luvvie, Hussain is camp, confident and actually, at times, moving as a man who is half hot-headed lothario and half wannabe Richard Burton.
At one point I found myself as a member of the cast – the farcical nature of the show allows for audience participation and saw me and another man stretching on stage and attempting to help carry a ‘heavy’ trunk off stage. Another girl took part in a dizzying skit which saw her almost perish in a rogue crepe suzette accident. All funny stuff.
This is the best production I’ve seen at the People’s Theatre by a mile and makes me genuinely intrigued to see how they can top it with future productions. A truly outstanding job by all involved – and no, I ain’t ‘avin a bubble.
One Man, Two Guvnors is running until Saturday October 8. For tickets or more information call the box office on 0191 265 5020 or click here.