Review: ‘One Man, Two Guvnors’ by Exeter University Theatre Company

Thoroughly ridiculous and completely hilarious, EUTCO’s production of ‘One Man, Two Guvnors’ kept the audience on the edge of their seat. A modern adaptation by Richard Bean of the Commedia dell’arte play “Servant of Two Masters”, the show is set in a delightful 1960s Brighton, with an eclectic range of characters, songs, dance and foolery, making for a night of hilarious entertainment.

The complex play centers around our One man, Francis, who becomes minder to two Guvnors, Roscoe Crabbe and Stanley Stubbers – except Roscoe is actually his sister Rachel posing as her dead brother, who was killed by her boyfriend, who happens to be Stanley. Rachel as Roscoe must marry Pauline as her father, Charlie, owed Roscoe money. But, Pauline is in love with Alan, a clichéd wannabe actor, who then intends to kill “Roscoe” for getting in the way of his perfect romance. Hiding from both the police and each other, Rachel and Stanley become tied in a hilarious web of lies and love – with Francis stuck in the middle, desperately trying to keep the two guvnors apart to save his job.

Leading man Francis provides an exhilarating performance, and his eccentric outbursts and over-the-top mishaps carry the show. With his exaggerated facial expressions and energetic stage presence, Francis was a wholly absurd but loveable character. His continual engagement with the audience was as charming as it was engaging, and only pulled us in further to his ridiculous antics. His Irish accent when disguised as the infamous “Paddy” certainly deserves recognition (I’m not sure if I can say the same for his Irish dancing), and the scene where he beats himself up seemed a hilarious ‘Fight Club’ parody.

Our Rachel/”Roscoe” proved a true theatrical talent, not least in her ability to belt out a musical number while the whole cast rearranged the stage behind her. One of the most emotive characters in the show, her grief for her brother and boyfriend was heartfelt and believable, providing strikingly profound and moving moments within the comedy. Not to say that Rachel didn’t have hilarious moments; both her mishaps with her disguise and extensive biological explanations depicted her as a complex, intelligent yet humorous character.

Stanley appeared a boarding-school boy who never grew out of that grotesque, immature, sexual nature, providing obvious hilarity when turned towards the audience. His cheeky winks, ridiculous attempts at seduction and melodramatic wailing for his (supposedly) deceased lover made him a bizarrely funny mix of charming and downright disturbing.

Similarly, Alan was a completely hilarious character, and potentially my favourite. A mockery of the over-rehearsed, melodramatic clichéd actor, who threatens to kill Roscoe with simply a spoon, Alan had me in tears, while epitomising the seriousness and self-righteousness of theatre which this commedia dell’ arte steered far away from.

There’s also a special place in my heart for Dolly – Pauline’s feminist bookkeeper, who continually protests men for their patronising, dismissive, oversexualisation of women, yet finds herself desperate to be romanced. We all know That friend, if it isn’t ourselves.

For me, the dinner scene proved a particular triumph for the whole cast, demonstrating both their hilarity and theatrical perfection. With Francis darting hysterically between the two doors – each concealing a governor unknowing about the other – the humour of this already sticky situation was heightened by the waiters: one an excessively flamboyant perfectionist, the other a deaf, elderly old man on his first day. With waiters at the two furthest ends of the competence scale, and Francis frantically slaving away in the middle, this scene demonstrated the cast’s perfected timing and slick performance, while leaving the audience in stitches.

The staging of the performance was a masterpiece itself. The old-fashioned floral sofa and excessively large rug perfectly depicted a comfortable yet excessive home environment, while the soft lighting and intimacy of the M&D room made us feel like a guest to the rather bizarre engagement party which opens the show. The bunting and light bulbs provided a distinct Brighton feel, with each actor’s costume perfectly depicting the 60s vibe. Finally, I loved how the actors even brought their characters into the scene changes – Pauline’s stupidity reflected in her inability to roll a rug, and even Alan’s overdramatic placing of a dustbin was hilarious. The casts ability to provide humour even to intervals between scenes surely reflects their true comedic talent.

A perfect mixture of slap-stick comedy and linguistic master, EUTCo’s production of ‘One Man Two Guvnors’ is an upbeat spectacle that’ll make you laugh and love. This is a cast confident in their improvisation and characterisation, and their audience engagement really brings you along for the ridiculous ride, making for a wholly hilarious and entertaining night.

– by Eleanor-Rose Gordon 

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