One Man, Two Guvnors

Derby Theatre


This comedy, written by Richard Bean in 2011, performed to unanimous acclaim by the National Theatre in London, now starts a regional run in Derby, where it is playing for the first time.

Bean is a prolific playwright with some twenty-six plays to his credit. Born and educated in Hull, his degree at Loughborough was in Psychology, providing the subject matter for his first play. He toured as a stand-up comedian in the early 90s before going on to write comedy for the BBC and moving full time into theatre including working with the Hull Truck Theatre Company. Entirely coincidentally Derby Artistic Director Sarah Brigham is also from Hull.

The plot is borrowed, and then adapted, from, Carlo Goldoni’s classic comedy, Il servitore di due padroni (The Servant of Two Masters) written in 1743. It unfolds not in Italy, but in Brighton in 1963, three hundred and twenty years later, for a modern farce, offering distinctly British badinage, physical laughs and live, onstage, skiffle music. Derby Theatre have again teamed up with the Queens Theatre Hornchurch for a co-production after their successful collaboration on “Abigail’s Party”.

One man, Francis Henshall, finds employment working for two guvnors, having been sacked from a skiffle band. Thereafter, murder, cross dressing, deception, misunderstandings, banging doors, hurried exits, serendipity and bad luck abound in glorious, comic, alchemy.


francis mids

David O’Reilly as Francis

David O’Reilly is wonderful as Francis, a man who will eat anything, even a letter, and for whom choosing between a meal on a plate, and sex on a plate, is an impossible conundrum. He combines quickfire wit, and outlandish visuals, in a glorious performance which carries the show. A Shakespearean Fool with a heart of gold who relishes audience reaction and participation.

George Kemp revels in the role of posh, foppish, Stanley Stubbers for whom politician Jacob Rees Mogg must surely have been an inspiration. Jack Brett as a failed aspiring actor combines affected enthusiasm and resigned theatrical ennui ,with Samantha Hull a stalwart foil to his linguistic excesses.

Alice Frankham in male mode disguise, playing Rachel’s twin brother, has enormous fun, as does the audience, convincing and enjoying in equal measure. Rosie Strobel pouts and preens with buxom allure as Dolly, the girl who always gets her man, and does. David Cardy builds his Charlie around an Arthur Daley like persona, gruff, and always ready to duck and dive.

The live skiffle band, playing during, before and after the play, itself are excellent, featuring Oraine Johnson, Dominic Gee Burch, Jay Osborne and Tomas Wolstenholme ably assisted by Adam McCready, Sound Designer and Kelvin Towse Musical Supervisor.

Director Sarah Brigham has done a superb job realising the comic potential of a fine script, ably supported by a strong cast. Neil Irish’s set and costume dazzle, morphing between dining room, reception room, pub exterior, and sea front with seamless ease. The stage has been extended to create a central runway with orchestra pit either side increasing the proximity of the audience to the action. O’Reilly uses that intimacy to maximum advantage.

Tim Skelly’s lighting shines. There is no slow scene setting in the first Act, instead it bursts with energy, vitality and laughs, setting a pace which the second Act has to work hard to sustain. The show defining meal scene at the end of the first Act in which Francis has to desperately keep his two guvnors apart is hilarious thanks to the sterling efforts of off -balance waiter Alfie (TJ Holmes), and neat audience participation.

A rousing finale had the full house on its feet to acclaim an energetic, hardworking, and talented cast for a sparkling production which runs until the 28th September, before touring extensively nationwide, determined to leave no corner of the country untouched.

Gary Longden



The logistics of watching theatre when you are the parent of young children can be challenging. To tackle that, on Sunday 22 September, the theatre will provide a free crèche on site for those attending the 2:30pm showing of One Man Two Guvnors. The crèche is open to ages 0-12 years and will be available from 2pm until approximately 5pm when the show finishes. Places are limited so early booking is recommended. 

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