Every now and again, when a hit show rolls in to town one can worry that the touring production may not be able to live up to the hype that precedes it; especially if one of the key components of the West End and Broadway success is missing.
In this production of One Man, Two Guvnors, the 1960’s-set story of a hapless, hungry oaf who finds himself employed by two seemingly warring men who he must keep apart and in the dark whilst at the same time trying to sate his ravenous appetite, the central role of Francis Henshall, originally played to huge acclaim by James Corden, is taken on by comedian Rufus Hound.
Initially Hound lacks Corden’s everyman charm, which is key to the role, but he has clearly worked very hard. He handles the physical buffoonery demanded of the part with considerable skill and through a piece of inspired improvisation (emanating from his stand-up roots) in the second scene he completely won me over – the rest of the audience were undoubtedly way ahead of me. Once Hound had proved his worth (to me at least) the rest of the production could be enjoyed for the unparalleled pleasure it is.
Richard Bean’s script, based on Carlo Goldoni’s The Servant of Two Masters, is crammed full of extremely puerile yet extremely clever lines; quite a feat to pull off. Many of the physical set-pieces, particularly in the first act, are astonishing, elevated in no small part by the rest of the dexterous and pitch-perfect cast. There are so many terrific performances on stage but particular mention goes to Edward Bennett as Stanley Stubbers, a monstrously lascivious and perverted toff who becomes Henshall’s second boss.
As you might expect, the plot is gloriously convoluted; characters come and go, some real some imaginary, some in drag, some not. Confusion and misunderstanding is king. Mark Thompson’s crisp design vibrantly brings to life the 60s British seaside setting and the mood is further enhanced by beat-combo The Craze, who entertain the audience with retro tunes between the scene changes.
One Man, Two Guvnors is pure farce. It’s furiously fast, physical and bawdy, doors never stay shut and trousers never stay up but unlike many farces I have seen this is brilliantly funny. A touring production that delivers on the hype.
One Man, Two Guvnors runs at the Grand Theatre, Leeds until 15 December. For more information visit www.leedsgrandtheatre.com