Saturday, November 17, 2018

One Man, Two Guvnors

One Man, Two Guvnors by Richard Bean (based on The Servant of Two Masters by Carlo Goldini).  Canberra Repertory Theatre, November 15(Preview) – December 2, 2018.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
Opening night November 16

If all you need is a thoroughly enjoyable laugh-out-loud evening as light relief from the absurdity of life, you can’t do better than this zany production of One Man, Two Guvnors.

If you don’t need to know why, stop reading now and book in immediately.  02 6257 1950.

About the production: it’s very cleverly done, but just make sure you are not Karen Vickery!  Did she fall for it on opening night, or was she pushed?

Director / Set Designer – Chris Baldock
Assistant Director / Musical Director / Dance Captain – Karina Hudson
Stage Manager – Joel Edmondson; Costume Design – Helen Drum
Lighting Design – Helen Nosworthy and Kai Fisher
Sound design – Joel Edmondson and Karina Hudson
Properties – Belinda Gamlen; Production Manager – Malcolm Houston

Skiffle Band: Nick Dennis – Lead vocals, guitar, harmonica;
Peter McDonald – Percussion; Hayley Manning – Double Bass

Paul Sweeney - Charlie ‘The Duck’ Clench    Holly Ross - Pauline Clench
Patrick Collins - Harry Dangle        Brenton Cleaves - Alan Dangle
Steph Roberts - Dolly            Marc Mowbray-d’Arbela - Lloyd Boateng
Arran McKenna - Francis Henshall        Meaghan Stewart - Rachel Crabbe
Patrick Galen-Mules - Stanley Stubbers    Michael Cooper - Alfie
Declan James - Gareth
Ensemble: Annabel Foulds; Antonia Kitzel; Mark Ritchie

I’m going to begin by cheating.  It’s modern media, you see.  Youtube.  On Broadway, the original National Theatre production starring James Corden.

Canberra Rep’s set design I liked better, but I can see that director Chris Baldock has gone for the same style of acting, and Helen Drum’s costumes are deliciously British all over. 

Baldock’s Director’s Note makes it clear that we are seeing a very professional ‘amateur’ theatre production for Canberra Repertory Theatre following his success at the similar Heidelberg Theatre Company in Melbourne some two years ago.  This is not a criticism – it’s proof that experience makes the pudding more scrumptious.

Baldock wrote “When I initially read One Man, Two Guvnors, I thought it was fairly humorous but failed to see what made it such a hit.  It wasn’t until subsequent reads that I realised it is what the director and cast brought to it that gave it its potential for a hilarious night in the theatre”.  And indeed that is what makes this production sparkle.

But for me, personally, and perhaps for other long-retired persons with an English history, there were reminders – and some other thoughts.

First, only if you recognise and have visceral feelings about the following list of names will you have understood Richard Bean’s play more fully.  These are (for me largely radio, before my family’s first television in 1952) the comedians Arthur Askey, Tommy Handley, Norman Wisdom, Sid James, Kenneth Williams and Tony Hancock.  It was the latter who hit me for six in 1968.

Hancock’s career began in 1942, the beginning of my life, and Hancock’s Half Hour, with Sid James on the BBC (1954 – 1961) was etched in my 14 year-old memory as I arrived in Australia in 1955.  Tony Hancock came to Sydney in 1968 – and committed suicide.  By now acting and directing myself, the news brought me up short.  How could that gentle comedian I still admired so much, kill himself?

That’s when I seriously began to question the popularity of American Method acting, and studied Stanislavski for what he really meant, with a lot of help from the work of Hayes Gordon and his Ensemble in-the-round Theatre in Sydney.

Here is the clue to the success of Chris Baldock and his beautifully selected cast of actors.  It looks like the National Theatre, but it’s not an imitation.  Perhaps it is even better because in the small scale theatre of Theatre 3, rather than the small but still 860 seat Music Box Theatre on Broadway, the cast could so easily establish physical interplay with us in the auditorium.  We all felt part of the play, and several, including the unfortunate Karen Vickery, played our parts on stage.  Karen thoroughly deserved our applause at curtain call after her thorough soaking just before interval.

This week, in three days of theatre in Canberra, I have seen American culture presented effectively (and therefore critically) by Everyman Theatre; English culture presented so effectively and effusively by Canberra Rep that it feels like going back to my childhood there; and the presentation by Scott Rankin at the National Museum of Australia, of his Platform Paper No 57, Cultural Justice and the Right to Thrive, advocating “for communities experiencing the effects of disadvantage [especially our Indigenous First Peoples]”, arguing “that culture is a human right”.

One Man, Two Guvnors may be the English culture to which so many of us colonisers belong.  Rankin says “It may appear that I’m suggesting that the individual-messiah-genius-as-artist is not the only way to create theatre”, and it is obvious that Chris Baldock understands what Rankin means.  Australian culture is multicultural, and each culture has its place, whether disadvantaged or not – so long as we do not fail to respect each other’s human right.

Or as Rankin wrote: “Culture, and therefore cultural rights, are not the gravy on the economic meat and potatoes. Culture is nutrition itself.” 

Go enjoy the absurdity on stage, as relief from the absurdity of real life.

Canberra Repertory Theatre, set and direction by Chris Baldock
The audience were all upstanding for God Save the Queen!