One Man Two Guvnors
Sat 7th May to Sat 14th May
Fired from his skiffle band, Francis Henshall becomes minder to Roscoe Crabbe, a small time East End hood, now in Brighton to collect £6,000 from the dad of his fiancee. But Roscoe is really his sister Rachel posing as her own dead brother, who has been killed by her boyfriend Stanley Stubbers. Holed up at The Cricketers Arms, the permanently ravenous Francis spots the chance of an extra meal ticket and takes a second job with one Stanley Stubbers, who is hiding from the police and waiting to be reunited with Rachel. To prevent discovery, Francis must keep his two guvnors apart. Simple.
Brighton has always had it's seedy side, despite it's current ultra-cool image. Since Graham Greene's time and beyond, it has been used as a bolt-hole by London villains. Which makes it the ideal setting for an update of Carlo Goldini's farce 'The Servant of Two Masters', written in 1746. Richard Bean's 'One Man Two Guvnors' is set in the Brighton of 1963, shortly before the dawn of the permissive society confined what used to be know as "dirty weekends in Brighton" to the dustbin of history.
Everybody was doing the Locomotion, Little Eva's one-hit wonder that would soon be forgotten as waves of Beatle-mania swept in. Skiffle bands, such as the one formerly fronted by Francis Henshall, were so last year. Having been fired as a singer, Francis manages to get himself hired as a minder for two different villains. Can they by any chance be connected? Well, it just so happens that one of them, "possibly" Stanley Stubbers, has killed the other, Roscoe Crabbe, a small-time East End hood. Few of the cast seem to be aware of this at first and Roscoe's twin sister Rachel is out to cash in on their ignorance. She poses as her brother in an attempt to collect 6,000 pound from the father of his fiancee. Still with me? No matter. This is one of those farces where you just go with the flow. Bean's script is shot through with lines as sharp as the lapels on a Mod's suit and the Criterion cast certainly make the most of them. There's also scope for interaction with the audience and some ad-libs (at one point on Saturday we veered surreally between The Cricketer's arms in Brighton and The City Arms in Earlsdon). As ever with farce, an apparently chaotic scenario requires a tight structure and split-second timing. Under John Ruscoe's direction, the actors rise to the occasion - or fall in the case of Jon Elves, playing an octogenarian waiter who, in a particularly hilarious scene, takes one knock-out blow after another and keeps coming back for more. Nicole Cortese struts around the stage with impressive bravura, posing as her late brother before whipping off her wig and falling into the arms of his stabber Stanley, played with admirable aplomb by Gareth Withers. Pete Meredith makes the most of his cameo role as a somewhat over-the-top "actor" in a natty cravat and Deb Relton-Elves, plays the token "northerner" with a bust-thrusting wiggle that makes more of an impression on the male Brightonians than her accent does. Lastly but by no means least comes Craig Shelton who takes on the lead role as the man with two "guvnors" with the energy of two men. Having seen James Corden's tour de force in the original National Theatre production of this play, I never expected a so-called "amateur" actor with a full-time job elsewhere to come near it. But from the moment that Craig tossed up a peanut and caught it in his mouth by tipping an armchair flat on its back, the realisation dawned that we were in for a treat. It's a treat still to come for those of you lucky enough to have tickets for other nights.