Behind the Scenes at NNT – One Man, Two Guvnors

For the final production before the holidays, Impact's Sam Young takes you behind the scenes one last time

One Man, Two Guvnors is a big, heart-warming comedy upon which to end the in-house season. Having run at both the West End and Broadway, Richard Bean’s highly-acclaimed play tells the story of the lovably hopeless Francis Henshall (played by James Curling), a man who finds himself in the unenviable position of being employed by both a violent Brighton gangster and an eccentric aristocrat with a shady past. The hapless Francis must do everything he can to keep his two masters apart, whilst at the same time trying to unearth the links between them. Shortly before the first run, Impact sat down with co-directors Kate O’Gorman and George Waring to talk about the NNT’s big pre-Christmas farce.

It was Waring, an NNT veteran now in his final year, who first suggested putting on One Man, Two Guvnors. “This was something I had studied at Sixth Form. It’s always been a play that I’ve loved, and the more I thought about it, the more I realised that we could actually do it at Nottingham.”

“I think the in-house seasons needs a comedy every now and then, to balance things out. One Man, Two Guvnors suits this brilliantly.”

O’Gorman, a second-year who managed to star in a remarkable five plays during her first year at Nottingham, was likewise drawn in by the light-hearted nature of Bean’s script.

“The script lends itself to pure hilarity, which is made even better when you add on the talent provided by the cast.” – O’Gorman

“We’d had quite a lot of experience acting comedy together, in both the Fringe season at the NNT and at Edinburgh,” she explains, “so I loved the idea of directing One Man, Two Guvnors. It’s the perfect thing to watch before you go home for Christmas.”

Of course, producing a play of this stature (the original West End version, starring James Corden, was internationally renowned) is no mean feat. However, neither Waring nor O’Gorman show any sign of tiring from the intensive pace of the rehearsal and preparation process.

“In most rehearsals we’ve just sat there laughing,” admits O’Gorman, “Every rehearsal has been absolutely bonkers. The script lends itself to pure hilarity, which is made even better when you add on the talent provided by the cast.”

Waring couldn’t agree more: “The cast has taken on the play with both hands. It’s honestly been one of the least stressful things I have ever done at the theatre.”

Perhaps key to the success of this process is the play’s reliance on the commedia dell’arte form. Bean’s original script is based on the Carlo Goldoni’s 1743 play Servant of Two Masters (Il servitore di due padroni), a highly stylised comedy in which each character is based around a certain stock figure (such as the comic servant, the doctor or the young lover). One Man, Two Guvnors takes this and applies it to a 1960s farce, including the hapless servant (Francis), the eccentric aristocrat and the dodgy criminal.

“In regards to the focus on the commedia dell’arte,” explains O’Gorman, “we wanted to familiarise the actors with their stock characters before we dived into the script.”

“Most of the characterisation has come from the actors. Right from the start we realised that we couldn’t teach comedy – you can’t just tell people to be funny. So instead we showed them their stock characters and allowed them to improvise around these.”

“We’ve certainly invested heavily in character work,” Waring continues, “The stock characters provide a framework for the actors to use. With that sort of foundation, they are free to play with ideas.”

This system gives the actors the liberty to alter the comedic elements of their characters each time they perform. “We’ve seen this play performed so many times in rehearsals, but each time we still find ourselves laughing.”

However, the comedy is not the only thing the directors are bringing to this production. As O’Gorman explains: “We wanted to make this the biggest spectacle so far, especially as it’s the last slot of the season.”

One manifestation of this drive for a big season finale is the presence of a four-piece band, who will be performing live on stage throughout the performance as well as in the theatre foyer during the interval.

“The band have completely chosen their own set,” O’Gorman continues. “They ran it all past us, but we wanted to give them the creative freedom over the music. They really give the play that upbeat 1960s atmosphere.”

Likewise, a great deal of time and effort has been put into making the set as striking as possible, a task which has not proved easy to accomplish in the two days that have passed since last week’s production finished.

“The stage is split into two zones,” explains Waring, “Because it’s set in Brighton we’ve got a pier at the back, but we’ve also got backdrops on hinges at the side of the stage that can be adjusted depending on the scene.”

“They’re double-sided, with a different background painted on each side. The stage-managers will come out between each scene to reveal a new backdrop for the actors to work with.” 

With the live band, the large-scale set and the fast-paced physical comedy, One Man, Two Guvnors will certainly end the season on a high note.

“It’s a celebration of the entertainment value of theatre,” considers Waring. “Some plays will leave you with a hard, political message, but this is one to just sit back and enjoy.”

“It’s been an amazingly diverse season so far – we’ve had loads of different plays and an incredible use of the performance space,” agrees O’Gorman. “But we feel like this will be a Christmas spectacle that will send the audience out happy.”

Sam Young

One Man, Two Guvnors is on at the Nottingham New Theatre 12 – 15 December.

Play poster and production photos courtesy of Nottingham New Theatre.

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