|Photo Helen Drum.
"One Man, Two Guv'nors" by Richard Bean, (after Carlo Goldini's"The Servant of Two Masters") directed by Chris Baldock for Canberra REP, at Theatre 3 Acton, until December 2. Reviewed by Phillip Mackenzie.
HOW does one review a play as funny as this, with a plot as improbable as this, performed by a cast as skilled as this, under the direction of one as wily as Chris Baldock, with one of the best sets seen on Theatre 3 stage in a long time?
A play in which not one comedic cliché is left unturned, in which each joke is followed so closely by the next that one scarcely has time to catch breath?
Basically, the title is the plot – by Richard Bean, out of Carlo Goldini. As far as I could make out from the tsunami of inevitable cock-ups drawn from the traditions of commedia dell'arte, vaudeville, old-time music hall, burlesque, any number of BBC radio series of the '40s and '50s, busty postcards from Butlins’ holiday camps at Brighton, the Goons, skiffle bands and The Beatles, Francis Henshaw (Arran McKenna) is on his uppers, will do and eat anything to stave of death by starvation, finds himself suddenly in the paid employ of not one, but two crooks on the same patch. While this is an economic windfall for Henshaw, if his doppelganging becomes known to either, he's for the high jump. He is surrounded by such a plethora of mistaken identities, crazy mates, winsome ladies, ex-cons and mad waiters that there is little point in trying to follow the plot – just sit back and lap up the fun or, if you happen to be sitting at the end of your row, be prepared to be shanghai'd into the action at the drop of McKenna's whim.
Every individual in the cast deserves a mighty rap, but space limits me to book-ending acting/performance credits to Arran McKenna's mastery of the mountainous role of Henshaw, hilariously in perpetual motion and Michael Cooper's dangerously ludicrous 100-year old trainee waiter who has almost nothing to do with what remains of the plot, so long as he can stay on his febrile feet.
The set is ingenious and marvellously dominated by the portrait of Her Gracious Majesty (perfect to the querulous cast of the eye) and the revolving centre produces an amazing range of other settings; the three-piece skiffle band, occasionally augmented by cast members of various musical skills to cover set changes reminds us of the a time when Britain was almost great again.
For me, the old BBC catch-line “Yer can't help larfin', 'cos it makes yer larf” springs to mind. Go see it for yourself.