REVIEW: One Man, Two Guvnors with MTC

Comedy chaos from a slapstick script

By Ross Larkin

If you’re a lover of farce or pantomime – you are, no doubt, in for a treat with One Man, Two Guvnors.

Owain Arthur (Francis Henshall) in One Man, Two Guvnors at the Theatre Royal Haymarket. Photo credit Johan Persson

Based on Goldoni’s 1746 work, The Servant of Two Masters, Richard Bean’s version smacks of slapstick, and then some. Played out with such frantic urgency from the get go, it’s necessary at times to sit back and take a breather from the hysteria.

Owain Arthur plays Francis, a rolypoly Welshman caught in a cat-and-mouse-frenzy between a woman disguised as her dead gangster brother (Rosie Wyatt) and a small-time crook (Leon Williams), along with additional obstacles (namely the crook’s daughter played by Kellie Shirley, and the gangster’s fiancé performed by Edward Bennett).

The energy and commitment of the actors is constant and remarkable. Arthur, in particular, is frankly genius in such a farcical role. Boisterous physical comedy, spontaneous jokes and audience interaction come naturally to the accomplished actor, as does his ability to improvise when things steer off course.

The supporting cast do well to compliment Arthur, considering how seemingly easy it might be to fall into the shadow of such a showman, and at times, offer a few unique laughs themselves.

One’s overall enjoyment of this production, however, largely depends on one’s appreciation for the acquired genre of farce.

Even if completely lost in the madness, the theatrical language and manic, farcical physicality can often instruct an audience when to laugh, regardless of true comical value.

Clowns and caricatures may delight some as they pick on unsuspecting patrons in the first row, or ask the audience for answers. “Could this be happening? What to do? What to do?” is an example of the degree to which One Man, Two Guvnors trips into pantomime territory.

However, traditional theatre goers may be bored to tears with the protagonist asking the audience for a sandwich repeatedly, or the hillbilly musical interludes, which, although polished and noteworthy, overstay their welcome.

Sadly, Bean’s script is low on witty dialogue, and relies very heavily on physical comedy and engaging performances, which, thankfully, have both been recruited in this British National Theatre tour.

Be warned, though, if melodramatic malarkey and audience participation are not your cup of tea: in spite of their success in those areas, there is little else left to offer.

One Man, Two Guvnors by Richard Bean is playing now at Melbourne’s Arts Centre Playhouse until June 22, 2013. Tickets available at http://www.mtc.com.au or by calling the Box Office on 03 8688 0800.

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