ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS
April 26, 2012
“Anybody have a sandwich?” clamors the starving Francis Henshall (James Corden) from the lip of The Music Box stage. Up goes a hand and we see a white bag dangle from a young gents hand. The helpful audience member shouts out he has a “humus” sandwich inciting a series of one liners from Henshall about being in a theater (not a restaurant) and following certain theatrical conventions—like not talking back when an actor tosses out a rhetorical question. Now whether this is a set up or not, who knows, but it hardly matters because onstage, the incomparable Henshall breaks into rolling laughter that floods the theater.
That’s just a schmear of the frivolity and out of mind fun that erupts like a happy rash throughout Richard Bean’s “One Man, Two Guvnors.” Beware, because Henshall busks his way around the stage releasing a personality large enough to be seated next to each person in the audience.
The evening's revelry splashes around a silly and wonderful concoction based on the 18th century farce by Carlo Goldoni, and employing 16th century Commedia dell’Arte traditions. Masterfully helmed by Nicholas Hytner of the National Theatre of Great Britain, his Swiss clockwork precision keeps tangled storylines and gags running like an expert juggler spinning half-a-dozen plates simultaneously in the air.
In truth, the story set in the 1960s, hardly matters but it does involve murder, mistaken identities, money, intrigue, sex and love. Central to the plot is the murder of a thug, Roscoe Crabbe reincarnated by his dandy sister Jemima Rooper and Henshall’s decision to assist two employers—Roscoe and the theatrically overblown Stanley Stubbers (Oliver Chris)--both hiding out in a English seaside pub.
Lust fuels the acrobatics coordinated by Cal McCrystal animating the couples: Roscoe and Stubbers, Pauline Clench (Claire Lams) and Alan Dangle (Daniel Rigby), plus the perkily buxom Dolly (Suzie Toase) and Henshall. In a brilliant portrayal of an aged, rickety waiter, Tom Edden --tray in hand, back hinging to the floor, barely averting catastrophe--handily nabs show stopping applause. But everyone in the cast deserves applause including Martyn Ellis, Trevor Laird, and Fred Ridgeway.
Mark Thompson’s costume and set desgins enforce the play’s sly visual wit and Associate Director and Choreographer Adam Penfrod assists in the eye-catching physical design.
From the moment the show starts with the young, energetic Skiflle band The Craze(Jason Rabinowitz, fine guitarist Austin Moorhead, Charlie Rosen and Jacob Colin Cohen) pounding out light rockabilly tunes, “One Man, Two Guvnors” takes off and never lands until the last person departs the theater. This should be a destination play for all those who believe in the health benefits of Laughter Yoga.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis