Theatre Review: One Man, Two Guvnors @ The New Vic

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credit-Andrew-Billington
credit-Andrew-Billington

It may at first be a strange decision to transfer the action of Carlo Goldoni’s classic play written in the 18th Century from the canals of Venice to early 1960s Brighton.

However, that is just what Richard Bean did when he adapted the theatrical classic and retitled it as One Man, Two Guvnors. The gamble certainly paid off because this updated version of the original Commedia dell’arte piece was a smash hit with audiences and critics alike.

Even better news for the patrons of the New Vic Theatre is that Director Conrad Nelson has taken hold of an already fabulous piece of comedic drama and cranked up the action to produce what is guaranteed to be one of the most talked about pieces of theatrical entertainment of 2024.

Like all of the best farce productions, attempting to reduce the synopsis to a few lines is an almost impossible task and the audience member is best advised to sit back and be hugely entertained as the madcap antics unfold before him. All will become clear in the end.

Local scrap merchant and small-time villain Charlie Clench (Howard Chadwick) has arranged for his rather naïve daughter Pauline (Alice Liburd) to become engaged to local gangster Roscoe Crabbe. Pauline would prefer to become betrothed to ham actor Alan Dangle (Thomas Cotran).

There are two complications to the proposed nuptials. Alan is the son of Charlie’s solicitor Harry (Jonathan Markwood) so a refusal would cause difficulties. Charlie appears to have escaped from his dilemma when news reaches him that Roscoe has been killed in a fight. Or has he? The cat is set among the pigeons when Roscoe (Lucinda Freeburn) appears at the engagement party accompanied by his minder Francis Henshall (Michael Hugo).

With Roscoe having an “identical twin” sister Rachel and Charlie’s very forward and feminist bookkeeper Dolly (Jessica Dyas) taking a shine to Francis, things are already complicated.

Further twists are added when Roscoe takes a room at the Cricketers Arms run by Charlie’s mate Declan (Lloyd Boateng) and Francis bumps into upper class twit Stanley Stubbins – excellently played by Gareth Cooper – who promptly takes the minder into his employment.

All of this allows the action to rock along frenetically as the audience sees Hugo get into all sorts of scrapes as he drags audience members into the action.

Act 1 ends in hilarious fashion as waiters Gareth (Daniel Miles) and Alfie (Nick Haverson) – an 86-year old who is surely too unsteady on his feet to serve at tables – are introduced to leave the audiences rocking with laughter.

Who is this Roscoe who has risen from the dead? What is the relationship between Stanley and the Crabbe family? Who is Paddy? Will Francis ever get his beloved fish and chips?

All will be revealed as the audience is treated to a feast of humour that runs through the whole range of verbal and physical comedy. There are some excellent alliterative scenes and all is accompanied by an original score that adds to the atmosphere and allows the props to be moved in syncopated fashion.

Will there be a more rounded piece of entertainment in 2024? With excellent casting and performances and on point costumes and music – not to mention another superb performance from Hugo -, this show will be difficult to beat. With so many alluring productions to come, it may be too early to hand out any awards but the packed audience gave One Man a resounding thumbs up.

The New Vic could easily be forgiven if they changed the title to One Man, Two Guvnors, Hundreds of Delighted Patrons.

One Man Two Guvnors continues until May 11th and has a running time of approximately 2 hours 50 minutes including interval. For ticket information contact 01782 717962