New Theatre’s One Man, Two Guvnors is a masterclass in slapstick set in 60s England and Australia. Despite its lengthy runtime, which exceeds 2 hours, it will keep you laughing to the point of physical agony. Directed by Angus Evans, it stands as a testament to the fact that even a genre seen by some as lowbrow or as a mere cheap laugh can feel so impressive when it has been so thoroughly well executed.
Written by Richard Bean as a modern and very English twist on Carlo Goldoni’s 18th Century Italian Farce, The Servant of Two Masters, One Man, Two Guvnors follows Francis Henshall (Tristan Black) in his desperate quest to appease his two ‘guvnors’ in exchange for money and food. One is a hardened gangster, Roscoe Crabbe (Eleanor Ryan), and the other is the posh but constantly jeering Stanley Stubbers (Patrick Cullen).
Supporting Francis and the two guvnors are a raft of other characters performed by Naser Ali, Eliva, Amy Victoria Brooks, Anna Dooley, Joe Clements, Angus Evans, Patricio Ibarra and Angharad Wise. Whilst that seems like a long list, they all perform unique and substantial roles within the play. Thankfully the long runtime of the show gives them plenty of space to develop and for those characters’ idiosyncrasies and motivations to come to light.
Most slapsticks treat the narrative as little more than a skeleton which serves to situate the comedy that plays out. That is mostly true of One Man, Two Guvnors, but the narrative is a notch above most slapsticks. The show is full of plot twists, suspense and even some lighthearted drama, all of which help keep the audience invested in the narrative – even if that isn’t the focus of the night. Moreover, the tight situations the characters find themselves in and their interesting relationships helps elevate the moments of comedy and slapstick.
The comedy and slapstick elements play out from start to finish, with the laughs almost tortiously piling on for hours. It’s truly impressive how well the show is able to do this without resorting to repetitious jokes or feeling cheaply crafted or unbalanced. This is no doubt due to the variety of jokes on offer. Jokes are delivered through Chaplin-esque physical comedy, music, witty one-liners, and extended scenes that take time to build up to bigger and more impactful punch lines. At points the cast also interact with the audience in crafty ways to construct additional layers of comedy that make you truly value having seen the show live. Together, the diversity of these comedic devices and their fantastic execution help One Man, Two Guvnors deliver an almost fierce barrage of laughs that will leave you begging for mercy as you gasp for air.
Of course, one of the most important elements for any slapstick is the quality of performances. This also happens to be one of One Man, Two Guvnors’ greatest achievements. Particularly great is Tristan Black, whose stage presence is simply magnificent and whose acts of physical comedy are nothing short of excellent. Patrick Cullen also plays a standout roe in playing the second guvnor and he has been perfectly cast for this role.
An interesting aspect of the show was the band. Featuring Georgia Condon, Georgia Drewe and Matt Forbes, they performed at the start of the show and during between scenes, as well as a few scenes during the show. The band didn’t feel like an aside from the show and they felt surprisingly well-integrated despite serving no real function within the story – perhaps thanks to their interaction with the audience.
The production was the icing on the cake to this great show. The sets by Jess Zlotnick were vibrant and beautifully painted and highlighted the setting of the show very well. Costumes by Holly-Jane Cohle and Eleanor Chessell were high quality and well-adapted. Finally, the fight choreographer, Diego Retamales aided in creating realistic fight scenes – a challenging feat in the CGI-less world of theatre.
Overall, One Man, Two Guvnors is a standout example of slapstick that does almost everything right. Being only $35, it is doubly worthy of recommendation. I thank New Theatre and the wonderful cast and crew for bringing us this show.