‘One Man, Two Guvnors’ Version 2.0 reviewed

❉ In deepest, darkest West Wales, a hit show is back with a vengeance!

Over the past few years, The Torch Theatre Company has had a number of critical and commercial successes under its belt ranging from intimate and revealing one man shows digging beneath the surface of cultural icons such as Welsh rugby hero Ray ‘Grav’ Gravell and Carry On stalwart Charles Hawtrey to ambitious stagings of Brief Encounter and The Woman In Black and the powerful ensemble piece One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, but for sheer crowd-pleasing entertainment factor there’s been nothing in the same league as last year’s production of Richard Bean’s Brighton-based comedy One Man, Two Guvnors.

The show looked to being the Torch Theatre’s biggest sell-out show in recent memory when the lead actor, Christian Patterson, sustained an injury which saw its original run prematurely curtailed. But you can’t keep a good show down, and the Torch’s Artistic Director, Peter Doran, resolved to conclude this bit of unfinished business by bringing it back for the theatre’s Autumn 2019 season.

One Man, Two Guvnors has an in-built flexibility, designed to allow for fourth-wall breaking ad libs and improvisation in the grand tradition of British music hall and vaudeville, which means that no two shows are entirely alike, although the show’s overall format and its scripts’ raft of quickfire gags is deceptively tight and structured. So there’s no reason for audiences who enjoyed the show last year to not return for another fix, or for anyone who missed out on last year’s production to come along and see what all the fuss was about.

Part of the reason for this is that this year’s production of 1M2G sees some fresh faces join the cast alongside performers returning to reprise their roles from last year, giving this riotous spectacle of farce a fresh lease of life. There was never any doubt that the ‘one man’ – the amply framed Christian Patterson – would be back to pick up where he last left off, holding the Pembrokeshire audience in the palm of his hand as the feckless, childlike, impulsive bungling go-between Francis Henshall, for although 1M2G is very much an ensemble production, allowing every member of its broad cast of larger than life archetypes their moments of charm, it’s Patterson/Henshall who takes the audience under his wing, engaging the crowd throughout and even allowing plucky audience members a chance to help sabotage the show!

For anyone unfamiliar with this hit show, which has been one of the most successful comedy plays of the last forty years, tearing up West End and Broadway, 1M2G is a slapstick farce which draws upon the comedic traditions of Italian Renaissance comedy, mashed up with the oh-so-British stylings of summer season end of the pier farce and the chaotic, hyperkinetic knockabout nonsense and knowing winks to the audience that’s found in everything from The Young Ones, Blackadder, Fawlty Towers and The Goodies through to The Mighty Boosh, Toast of London and Father Ted.

It’s not very often you get to see a production get to have a do-over of previously performed material, so for those of who laughed like a drain throughout last year’s production, it was an amusingly instructive experience seeing this ‘Version 2.0’ of the show, with a few nips and tucks. It’s fair to say that last year, Peter Doran could not have casted the show better, and yet somehow, due to some of the original cast being unavailable due to other commitments, 1M2G 2.0 proved that lightning can strike twice, with newcomers offering their own unique interpretations of certain roles.

George Naylor was dynamic as toothpick-skinny wannabe thespian Alan Dangle, Sarah Annis owned her scenes as the voluptuous proto-feminist Dolly, the impressively versatile Torch regular Miriam O’Brien was innocence personified as the dim-witted but idealistic Pauline, and veteran actor Marcus Knibbs made a welcome return to the Torch as semi-retired gangster Charlie Clench, channeling aspects of gruff, tough East End ‘fixers’ like Jack The Hat McVitie and Charlie Richardson.

Last but by no means least, we were introduced to Emma Mulkern in the Shakespearean-esque ‘sort of’ dual role as Rachel Crabbe undercover as her dead twin brother Roscoe; in a play whose main themes are double dealing and deception, Crabbe is a key character and Mulkern struck just the right note of cocky Cockney swagger betraying an inner vulnerability as s/he sought to be reunited with her lover, James Mack’s sadistic public school hoodlum Stanley Stubbers.

One of the main characters of the play, James Mack returning to the role of Stanley – complete with his array of Old Etonian slang and edgy double entendres – looked supremely confident and at ease returning to a role he’s made his own, as did the supremely chilled-out Lloyd ‘Parkhurst’ Boateng (Charles Angiama).

Of the returning cast, Peter Doran once again provided moments of dangerous physical comedy as the Cricketers Arms’ decrepit waiter Alfie, throwing himself fully into crowd-pleasing pratfalls and collisions that were suggestive of a superannuated version of Adrian Edmondson in Bottom,  and which would have exhausted an actor half his age!

There’s very little one can criticise about this production; if anything it feels tighter, slicker and more fluid than last year’s iteration, with the foreknowledge of knowing what works best for the audience; even the engaging, toe-tapping skiffle and Country & Western musical breaks (Mule Skinner Blues, Midnight Special) as the Torch’s tech crew made scene changes felt more integrated, as well as assisting the period setting of 1963, where the Merseybeat boom had yet to take over the UK.

When assessing the effectiveness of a show like 1M2G, the final say has to go to the audience, and from where this reviewer was sitting, this relaunch was an unqualified success, delivering a gut-bustingly hilarious evening of old fashioned entertainment leaving the crowd with big smiles.

It’s a big-hearted, laugh out loud comedy that’s the perfect antidote to this world of stress and anxiety, with a crack cast at the top of their game, and hugely recommended for anyone looking for a good night out to blow away the winter gloom.

❉ One Man, Two Guvnors opens at the Torch Theatre, Milford Haven, runs until Saturday 16 November with a variety of evening and matinee performances, and a BSL (British Sign Language) interpreted performance on Thursday 7 November at 7:30pm. Visit https://www.torchtheatre.co.uk/

❉ Darryl Dickson is a freelance writer. His first book is due for publication in 2020.

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