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One Man, Two Guvnors (Mayflower Theatre, Southampton)

''One Man, Two Guvnors'' is a show with a giant heart, wholesome , slick and impeccably timed.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
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Richard Bean, the brilliant writer of this incredibly clever piece of theatre, won the 2012 WhatsOnStage Theatregoers' Choice Award for best New Comedy for One Man, Two Guvnors, and there is no doubt as to why. It is based on, and adapted from, Goldini's 1746 drama The Servant of Two Masters. After hugely successful runs in London, New York and Australia, the touring version of One Man, Two Guvnors' has landed with a large ‘splat' in Southampton. The Mayflower audience, on the first night, was electrically charged with laughter throughout the performance.

Although there are many brilliant characterisations, the magnum opus is, of course, the lead man Francis Henshall, (Gavin Spokes). The physical demands on this man are endless. He is the centre piece that holds the whole jigsaw together. There are so many sub plots, causing confusion upon confusion, lashings of slapstick, farce and a generous helping of pantomime; even incorporating embarrassing audience participation, so beware if you are sitting in the front rows.

The scene is set in Brighton in the 1960's, so backcombed hairstyles, loud pin stripe suits and push-up bras are to the fore. The plot is as baffling and convoluted as the action. In a large nut shell it involves Francis Henshall, a skiffle player who has fallen on hard times, and finds himself employed by two different bosses at the same time. One of these is Rachel Crabbe, ( Alicia Davies) the ‘identical' twin (!) of her deceased brother, an infamous gangster, who was killed by her high-class twit lover, Stanley Stubbs (Patrick Warner). He, ironically, is the other boss who hires Henshall as his batman/lackey, thus providing the basis for hilarious double meanings and cross purposes.

From entering the theatre to the curtain call ‘The Craze', a hugely entertaining skiffle combo, provide authentic, relevant music and song, linking each imaginatively staged scene.

It is difficult to mention all the superb performances but Alfie (Michael Dylan) playing an octogenarian waiter in the style crossed between a Muppet and Mrs Overall! is truly memorable. His implausible flexibility and slapstick timing give us numerous side splitting moments. Alan Dangle (Edward Hancock) plays the wannabe actor madly in love with Pauline (Jasmyn Banks) a blonde airhead who was originally betrothed to the deceased twin, Roscoe Crabbe. His exaggerated portrayal of a Shakespearean doyen is cringe worthy but riotous.

This is a show with a giant heart; wholesome, slick and impeccably timed. Although there are slight dips here and there, it is magnificently entertaining and a true feast of comedy.

- Veronica Crowley