Hannah Filer and Harriet Haylock are just two members of the fabulous ensemble of One Man, Two GuvnorsPaul Ashley with permission for Varsity

Near the conclusion of One Man, Two Guvnors, actor Alan Dangle (Aaron Gillett) bursts onto stage, brandishing a knife. “Where did you get the knife?” ask three characters, in turn. To which, of course, Alan replies: “Woolies!”

In one word, Alan captures the play’s high-but-ridiculous stakes. Then he’s promptly disarmed by his fiance’s ex-fiance’s identical twin — sorry, dizygotic twin — disguised as his fiance’s ex-fiance. Don’t try to keep up. Instead, let Izzy Colman and Pauline Eller’s production erupt before your eyes, in all its madcap glory. Just try not to slide onto the floor from laughing too hard. And maybe hope you’re not the audience member who gets dragged up onstage and sprayed with a fire extinguisher.

“Try not to slide onto the floor from laughing too hard”

For those of you who weren’t forced to watch the National Theatre’s 2011 production in GCSE Drama, One Man, Two Guvnors is the adventure of Francis Henshall (Joe Morgan), as he accidentally enters the employment of both Stanley Stubbers (Jay Palombella) and Rachel Crabbe (Rosie Parrish), disguised as her brother, Roscoe Crabbe, whom Stanley recently “accidentally stabbed three times in the chest”. It’s commedia dell’arte, with a would-be murder weapon bought at Woolworths. And, good news — it’s commedia dell’arte, without James Corden.

Colman and Eller resist the no-doubt tempting option of recreating the smash-hit 2011 production, and put their own spin on things. For instance, whilst Morgan’s floaty, anxious physicality was reminiscent of Corden, there was a slightly sharper quality to his character. Oftentimes, I felt like the harlequin wasn’t so much blundering into situations, as playing practical jokes on himself. If anyone was unconvinced, the scene in which Francis seems to split into two people, chastising and egging himself on before actually coming to blows with himself, showed that Morgan was a comedic force to be reckoned with. It was like watching Gollum, if Gollum took improv classes.

“The problem with One Man, Two Guvnors is that everyone feels like a scene-stealer”

The problem with One Man, Two Guvnors is that everyone feels like a scene-stealer. I found myself wishing to see more of Morgan’s remarkable improvisatory rapport with the audience; when a hungry Francis’ character motivation was very nearly sabotaged by an overeager audience member’s hummus sandwich, Morgan chided the audience for ruining two of the barman’s (Matthew Copeman) three lines, and deftly guided them out of the wonderfully haphazard scene. But I also wanted more of Stanley and Rachel’s thoroughly strange but rather endearing relationship, more of the aged, long-suffering Alfie (Olly Gale) and the best stage falls I’ve ever seen, and — does it even need to be said? — more of Alan. Gillett only had to widen his already-ridiculous stance, and the audience was in stitches. Likewise, Harriet Haylock and Lizzy Riley’s performances, as Pauline and Dolly, respectively, were as far as I could tell, flawless. Not only did they have the best accents of the show, Haylock’s fake-crying was so grating that I was torn between covering my ears, and giving her a round of applause. Riley’s fire-and-brimstone delivery of “you wanna watch your tongue, young man!” not only put Alan in his place, but quite a few audience members too. Every time one of the wacky ensemble sprinted onto stage, I sat up in my seat. If nothing else, One Man, Two Guvnors is good for your posture.

Perhaps it’s unfair to write about stand-out performances when the production’s strength arguably lies in its ensemble as a whole. When the curtain fell, I found myself not only wanting to see the play again, but this cast together in other productions (perhaps a Jeeves and Wooster reboot, based on Haylock’s talent for making air-headedness endearing). They just had a knack for bouncing off each other. When Christian Longstaff turned on the microphone that Hannah Filer had forgotten to turn on in the first musical interlude, you’d have thought his knowing look at the audience was scripted.


Mountain View

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It’s not just every character jostling for your affection — One Man, Two Guvnors also had me wishing for scenes to end. I was just desperate to hear more of the show’s musical interludes. Musical director Beck Walker created the ideal blend of ’60s swing, genuinely gorgeous vocals (Parrish, Riley and Haylock’s harmonies in Lighten Up and Lay Low counteracted the sinister lyrics about being an accomplice to murder), and complete and utter chaos. Longstaff proved xylophones are what rock and roll has been missing. Filer and Parrish stayed entirely straight-faced during a squeeze-horn interlude (remarkably). And Riley deserves an Olivier Award for that kazoo solo. No, really.

One look at the show’s Camdram page, and you’ll see that One Man, Two Guvnors is one hell of a production. From brilliant costume design by Lucy Wright (there were too many hairbands, sure, but that can only be a good thing), to seamless stunts (I too would trust Stanley to hit me with a cricket bat to stop a heart attack in its tracks), and the cast’s physicality (one tilt of the head, and you can just tell whether or not Parrish is being Rachel or Rachel-as-Roscoe), Colman and Eller are really onto a good thing. It’s a hard ask, for a play that’s meant to feel like a runaway train to steer you in all the right directions. But that’s exactly what One Man, Two Guvnors does. Admittedly, I shouldn’t be surprised it’s good at doing a few jobs at once. It took its cues from the best: Morgan in that dinner scene.

One Man, Two Guvnors is playing at the ADC Theatre from Tuesday 23rd to Saturday 27th May, 7:45pm, with a 2:30pm matinee on Saturday