Slapstick comedy, One Man, Two Guvnors, lives up to its hype

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 18 February, 2013, 4:34am

One Man, Two Guvnors
National Theatre of Great Britain
Lyric Theatre, HK Academy for Performing Arts
Reviewed: February 15

It's easy to understand why this 2011 National Theatre production - which premiered in Asia last Friday as part of the Hong Kong Arts Festival - is already a big hit in London's West End and New York's Broadway.

Written by Richard Bean and directed by Nicholas Hytner, One Man, Two Guvnors is an all-out farce that doesn't take itself too seriously. Yet underneath all the slapstick comedy lies an ingeniously devised piece of theatre.

An adaptation of Venetian playwright Carlo Goldoni's commedia dell'arte classic Servant of Two Masters (1743), this play transposes the setting from 18th century Venice to 1960s Brighton. A skiffle band is thrown into the mix for extra entertainment.

The engagement party of Pauline Clench (Kellie Shirley) and her actor boyfriend Alan Dangle (Leon Williams) is interrupted by the unexpected arrival of Francis Henshall (Owain Arthur), who announces that his boss, Roscoe Crabbe (Rosie Wyatt), whom Clench was betrothed to, is not dead as rumoured - but is now here to take her hand.

But Roscoe is, in fact, his twin sister Rachel, who is on the run with Stanley Stubbers (Edward Bennett), who killed her brother.

To add to the absurd situation, Henshall ends up serving both Crabbe and Stubbers without knowing their true identities.

As in any comedy that plays on mistaken identities, there's much fun to be had with all the misunderstandings that often lead to hilarious consequences. There are also plenty of gags - both verbal and physical - as well as double entendres.

Henshall's ability to prance around and improvise drew much laughter. But there were also several comic moments that were just too contrived that they failed to lift off.

Arthur was the centre of attention throughout, but the rest of the ensemble - especially Wyatt, Bennett and Williams - as well as the obliging audience's participation made One Man, Two Guvnors one roaring piece of entertainment.

The play runs at the APA until February 23.