One Man, Two Guvnors has been one of the theatrical phenomena of recent years. It has been the National Theatre’s most commercially successful production and has won numerous awards here and in America, while his performance in the leading role of Francis Henshall ensured that James Corden became the most successful of the original History Boys.
In this production, the part of Henshall is taken by Rob Tuck, which means that he has to carry the play. His broad shoulders (literally and metaphorically) prove up to the task as he puts in a performance full of wit and comic timing: in act 1, his trick with three half-full glasses and his fight with himself are both memorable. He is a talented physical comedian, and one who knows how to establish a rapport with an audience. The most important requirement of the role is that the audience should find him a rogue but an endearing rogue, and that is certainly achieved. We share his confusion at the surreal situation in which he finds himself and are rooting for him as he tries to resolve it to his advantage. His playing would be more effective still if he could avoid a tendency to overdo the gasps, sighs, oohs, phews and other verbal tics.
Henshall may dominate the play, but he needs a strong supporting cast – and that he most certainly has. James Young is particularly enjoyable as would-be actor Alan Dangle. The part is a heaven-sent opportunity for outrageous over-acting, an opportunity which James does not let pass him by. Laura Alborough (credited as choreographer and a super mover on stage) is also very good as the love of his life and archetypal blonde bimbo Pauline Clench, her cry of “I don’t understand” ringing through the play. Tom Critchell is suave as Stanley Stubbers but conveys a sense of menace beneath the outward appearance of an upper-class twit.
Geoff Pollard as Charlie ‘The Duck’ Clench and Hannah Jean as Rachel (disguised as Roscoe) Crabbe are convincingly sinister as small-time gangsters, but Charlie is given a thick Cockney accent and Rachel is rather shrill, both of which can mean audibility problems. The cast appreciate the need for pace in a farce like this and the play fairly rattles along, but that, too, can lead to some of the words being lost.
Special mentions are deserved by Martin Parslow as Alfie, who must be bruised all over from the number of times he has to fall off the Regent stage, for Warren Marks (a doppelgänger for Philip Larkin), who not only takes the part of the solicitor, Harry Dangle, but plays percussion in the three-piece band that entertains the audience in musical interludes while changes are made to the excellent set, and for the members of the audience who find themselves unexpectedly taking part in the play – be careful where you sit!
One Man, Two Guvnors cannot be an easy play to direct, but director Victoria Semple has made a very good fist of it and it is well worth seeing the results of her and her team’s efforts on 5 October at 2.30pm and 7.30pm.