Set in the criminal underworld of Brighton, England in 1963, Richard Bean brings a modern day adaptation of Commedia dell’Arte; the art form that formalised professional theatre in the 16th century, to the Adelaide Festival. Commedia dell’Arte paved the way for slapstick, improvisation, pantomime, melodrama, ballet and opera, with even classic British comedy and variety hall adopting many of the Commedia dell’Arte elements.
Based on Carlo Goldoni’s, The Servant of Two Masters, a scripted Commedia dell’Arte play, One Man Two Guvnors follows the archetypal storyline but has completely reworked and reinterpreted a wonderful classic to suit a modern context. There are no masks, no identifiable postures and no multilingualism and as such exceeds handsomely in Bean’s idea to produce a Commedia-inspired, rather than directly descendant from, hilarious comedy.
The check-suited fatso Francis Henshall, played by Owain Arthur (who was the original West End cast’s understudy to James Corden) acquires two very unique bosses, Rachel Crabbe, a young woman madly in love and disguised as her recently murdered twin brother, Roscoe Crabbe, the local mob boss, and an upper-class twit, Stanley Stubbers, who is in love with Rachel and who murdered Roscoe. To avoid being found out, Francis needs to keep his two guvnors apart, and his attempts produce farcical results.
It is evident that Arthur is a master of improvisation and audience interaction as, upon his first entrance, a barking dog in the audience attempts to shadow his Australian debut. This puts the on-stage cast into a fit of laughter and the audience eagerly joins in. As audience members are pulled from their seats to help Francis carry suitcases, Arthur has us grinning from ear to ear as he improvises the scene. To cause laughable trouble for Arthur and the overall story line, during his grumbling stomach monologue, an audience member offers him a hummus sandwich, whereby Arthur has to decline to save the plot. Then there is the lady in the front row that at first was asked to hold a bowl of soup, and later is doused by a fire extinguisher! One Man Two Guvnors consistently achieves a fast paced, high-energy show with exhausting comic momentum in the first act and, while the pace settles slightly after intermission, the audience are like putty in their hands, and you hardly notice.
There are plenty of asides and Australian references to keep the local audience having a good laugh at themselves, especially when Rachel and Stanley battle with their prospect of exile to Australia; “a terrible outdoorsie life, sustained by lager, barbecues and opera.”
1960’s revival/skiffle band, The Craze, deserve a special mention for offering the live music from beginning to end, and it was a delight to see the main stars of the show join the band to showcase their musical talents throughout.
While the cast are just superb, it is Cal McCrystal’s direction of the amazing physical comedy and slapstick that creates the basis for most of the humour. In particular, during the food service scene, the almost deaf and shaky old waiter, Alfie, complete with a pacemaker, continually falls down, bangs into doors, is hit by almost anything and everything that comes his way, and faces near death when his pacemaker is set to high voltage in this non-stop ecstatically ridiculous passage. The comic timing is done to perfection.
In keeping with classic Commedia dell’Arte traditional, all is restored back to order, and One Man Two Guvnors delivers a charming happy ending.
An absolutely side-splitting comedy! For those who can’t get to London to see West End theatre, this is a wonderful opportunity to see highly talented international performers right here at home!
Reviewed by Corinna Di Niro, special guest Festival Critic, Glam Adelaide.
Venue: Her Majesty’s Theatre, Grote Street, Adelaide
Season: various times to Sat 9th March 2013
Duration: 2hrs 50mins incl. 20mins intvl.
Tickets: $30 to $99
Bookings: BASS 131 246 or here
Corinna Di Niro is a specialist in Commedia dell’Arte and will shortly complete a PhD, making her the only person in Australia ever to gain this qualification in this subject. She has studied with Italian master Antonio Fava, and recently brought him to Australia to conduct workshops and perform here, and she will offer the same opportunity to Adelaide this May when she brings him here once more. She also has her own performance company, Commedia con Corinna.