“Has anybody got a sandwich?” Francis Henshall (Rufus Hound) shouted out to the auditorium. The unforgiving spotlight on the audience and his willing gesture for somebody to speak filled me with dread, reminiscent of those moments of awkward pantomime audience participation. But within seconds, I was slumped back in my seat, roaring my head off with laughter along with the rest of the audience at Richard Bean’s One Man, Two Guvnors, directed by Nicholas Hytner.
It was initially unclear how the use of the swing quartet to welcome the audience into the auditorium would fit in with the rest of the play. In reality however, it cleverly knitted together scenes which otherwise could have felt disjointed due the complexity of the elaborate sets. The subsequent fluidity of the performance ensured the captivation of the audience throughout.
Though the technical logistics ran like clockwork, it was Hound’s improvisation that was responsible for some of the most well received one – liners of the evening. His quick wit and humility balanced with sharp execution of written lines of the play ensured that audience participation was a highlight of this performance; putting both his ‘helpers’ and their fellow audience members at immediate ease.
The play was populated with unplanned corpsing, and rather than distract from the action on stage, it only added to the general comedy of each scene. As the actors were not afraid to highlight their own mistakes, it was heartening to see the actors enjoying themselves on stage just as much as the audience. It is these moments of spontaneity that puts this modern force at the forefront of its field.
Aside from Hound’s fantastic portrayal of Francis Henshall, this show was far from a One Man performance. The portrayal of the unconventional waiter Alfie (Peter Caulfield) provided one of the most hilarious and refreshingly candid performances I’ve seen in theatre. Perhaps morally wrong to laugh at an aged man with a pacemaker wound up like a toy hamster, Caulfield’s committed performance left each member of the audience wiping away tears of laughter.
Amy Booth-Steel’s vigour and enthusiasm in playing the empowered feminist Dolly was uplifting and Edward Bennett’s uncanny likeness to an English boarding school alumnus ensured that just one look to the audience instigated ripples of laughter. The duo of Pauline (Kellie Shirley) and Alan Dangle (Leon Williams) was executed with absolute perfection; Williams’ role as budding actor was painfully accurate in the delivery of his over-the-top, poetic lines.
However, the evident skill in the other actor’s submersion into their characters highlighted Rosie Wyatt’s occasional struggle in convincingly portraying Rachel Crabbe. Nonetheless, the cohesion of the performance and her interaction with other characters meant that this was quickly discarded as the audience fell deeper under the spell of this comic masterpiece.
This show has received glittering reviews in every city and before seeing the show I questioned why. However, even after 10 minutes in my seat, I soon understood. It’s the surprise of spontaneity of actors and audience reactions, with corpsing and improvisation receiving some of the most uncontrollable laughs. And not forgetting the fantastically executed audience interaction, which constantly leaves the audience sat upright and ready for more. The interplay of improvisation and Richard Bean’s witty script is flawless and it is from this I am not surprised to hear that, like Broadway and the West End, this national tour is yet again a sell-out run.
Olivia de Courcy
Images by Tristam Kenton