Sunday, May 5, 2013


Owain Arthur star of 'One Man, Two Guvnors'

Written By Richard Bean
Directed by Nicholas Hytner
National Theatre of Great Britain (on tour)
Sydney Theatre Company to May 11
The Playhouse, Melbourne May 17 to June 29

Reviewed by Len Power 2 May 2013

We often hear from publicists that their show is a 'magical' night at the theatre. Well, true theatrical magic is definitely on display in the National Theatre of Great Britain's touring production of 'One Man, Two Guvnors' playing at the Sydney Theatre Company until May 11. It's also one of the funniest and cleverest farces I've seen in a long time.

Based loosely on Carlo Goldoni's, ' A Servant Of Two Masters', the play by Richard Bean, involving the expected mistaken identities and scheming characters, is set in Brighton, England in 1963.  I'd get a headache trying to describe the plot and you wouldn't be any the wiser if I did and it really doesn’t matter.  Starting from Commedia dell'Arte characters and situations and utilizing 'Carry On..' movie naughty seaside postcard humour, the cast quickly break the fourth wall with knowing winks and asides to the audience.  Then the increasing level of interaction with the audience gives the show a daringly improvisational feel.  When individual members of the audience are drawn even deeper into the show, it all moves into another dimension.

That’s what makes this show unique.  You're never sure whether the clever cast have left the script behind and are ad-libbing and interacting with audience members or whether it's all scripted down to the blink of an eye-lash. You'll be glad you didn't sit down the front when you see what happens to one hapless audience member.....or was she a plant all along?

The energy of this large ensemble cast leaves you breathless. Led by the hysterically funny performance of Owain Arthur, everyone looks like they're having a great time.  The audience hardly have time to recover from one funny sequence to the next.  The show has a ‘physical comedy director’, Cal McCrystal and his work is inspired.  There is not one physical gag in the show that doesn’t work and at times the audience is helpless with mirth.

Before the show starts and during scene changes, an excellent four member Beatle-like pop group, The Craze, entertain with songs composed in the style of the 1960s by Grant Olding.  Not to be outdone, various members of the cast sing and perform during scene changes too. Some of these acts remind you of the eccentric vaudeville acts that would have been common in British seaside variety theatres in the period of the play's setting.

The substantial sets and great costumes by designer Mark Thompson capture the flavour of Brighton in the 1960s and the director, Nicholas Hytner, has done a marvellous job with all aspects of the production. He truly is a theatrical magician.

Originally broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7 ‘Dress Circle’ program on Sunday 5 May 2013