Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

Francis and cast

Pauline (Sophie Louise Johnson), left, Alan, (George Wyton), Francis (Simon Baker), Harry (Andy Tomlinson), rear, Lloyd (Fidel Lloyd), obscured, and Charlie (Paul Wescott)

One Man, Two Guvnors

Sutton Arts Theatre


RICHARD Bean’s gloriously silly comedy has been one of the runaway smash hits of the decade so far.

It is fast, furious, daft and devilishly difficult to stage with major set changes, a script that demands impeccable timing on every page, a large cast who all have to be convincing and with not a single character that could be described as even vaguely normal.

So for an amateur company to even attempt it is brave, or even foolhardy, and then to pull it off as well as Sutton Arts has done is nothing short of a triumph.

Audience members who took Commedia dell'arte and its influence on classical Italian Theatre of the 17th and 18th centuries at GCSE (or O level for older members) will immediately recognise that the play is based on Carlo Goldoni’s celebrated Servant of Two Masters.

Those who took woodwork or basket weaving instead could just sit back and laugh, and laugh and . . . you get the picture. It is very funny.

Bean has moved the story from 1740’s Venice to 1960’s Brighton - the two are easily confused - and the plot is simple; socially and, if one is honest, completely inept in every other area as well, Francis Henshall finds himself employed first as the minder of London gangster Roscoe Crabbe and then as batman to upper class twit Stanley Stubbers, straining his limited brainpower to desperately try to keep the two guvnors secret from each other. Except Roscoe is really dead and Pauline Clench, who is intellectually challenged and still dolly and paulinelosing badly in the contest, and who was due to marry Roscoe merely as a cover for his homosexuality when he went to boxing matches (One Man, Two Guvnors does not do PC), is now marrying the way, way over the top, would-be actor Alan, which in turn means that Roscoe . . . oh, just go and see it.

Simon Baker takes on the role of Francis Henshall, which is a big role demanding both physical, visual and verbal humour. It was first played by James Corden, making it a test in itself subsequent actors in the role and the hard working Baker acquits himself well. The role demands not only good timing but elements of stand-up, audience participation and out and out daftness - as well as a physical battering. Out of all that Baker builds a nice relationship with the audience which is all part of the fun.

Dolly, played by Hellie England and Pauline, played by Sophie Louise Johnson

George Wyton, though, almost steals the show as the would be Thespian Alan Dangle, with more ham than a Co-op funeral tea as he expresses his love for Pauline and then threatens her father with a knife – the knife is from Woolies by the way if you happen to miss it.

Sophie Louise Johnson gives us a Pauline whose age is probably about the same as her IQ, a lovely study of dimness, which is hardly surprising when one considers her father Charlie The Duck Clench, scrap metal merchant and ex-con, played in a sort of gentle, none-too-bright, suppressed thug style by Paul Wescott. Charlie has a difficulty with the concept of identical twins – he is also not that good with long words, i.e. more than one syllable.

His bookkeeper, door opener, etc is Dolly, played with blousy Geordie charm – and a hint of lust mixed with desperation – by Hellie England in a nicely measured performance as the love/lust interest for Francis. She also doubles up as an old lady in a couple of Benny Hill style chase sequences.

Charlie’s brief is Alan’s pompous father Harry Dangle, lawyer to the criminal classes, played by Andy Tomlinson, who won’t use one word when two dozen, preferably in Latin, will do.

Then we have the dead Roscoe -or is it? – played by Gemma Smyth (the name might be a hint here), who gives us a diminutive male gangster who arrives in Brighton to collect money owed by Charlie -despite being supposedly killed by the boyfriend of his own twin sister Rachel Crabbe – see where this is going?

Then there is Stanley, or Dustin Pubsign as he is known, an upper class bounder, crikes, who is on the run after a killing in London (hint again) . . . played with a nice touch of public school humour and bizarre comments by Gary Pritchard.

Meanwhile running The Cricketers Arms – which does exist and where I might just have had the odd pint over the years – is Lloyd, Charlie’s old friend (try cell mate) played with a lovely West Indian accent by Fidel Lloyd who immediately strikes up a relationship with the audience.

Dan Payne has enough roles to produce a play on his own as a policeman, vicar, taxi driver, barman and, head waiter Gareth iLloyd and racheln a slapstick restaurant scene which also involves the ancient waiter Alfie, 87, deaf and on his first day played, stutteringly and slowly – except when his pacemaker is turned up – by Ray Lawrence.

And the restaurant scene also sees a poor old audience member dragged up on stage and when the Crêpes Suzette become more Crêpes bonfire she ended up drenched and covered in foam. (note: if you sit on front row take Pacamac and hat just in case)

There are some major scene changes from Charlie’s sitting room to outside The Cricketers, outside Charlie’s Scrap Yard, inside the pub, on the seafront and back to Charlie’s which with the limited space, no wings or flies, presents a technical challenge but Jeff Darlow’s design is simple and works well and the stage crew worked heroically to complete changes in double quick time.

Gemma Smyth as Roscoe . . . or is it Rachel . . . with Fidel Lloyd as Lloyd.

The professional production uses a skiffle group to fill in, here the audience has to make do with recordings but changes are fast enough to prevent the natives becoming restless.

Director Rosemary Manjunath, in her first production for Sutton, has done a fine job of keeping everyone on track – interaction with audience is precise and never drifts into self-indulgence – and has kept up a cracking pace with what must have been some hard rehearsal hours to get the timing so spot on. She has also done well to work around the problems that the limited space presented.

If you have never seen the National Theatre production you would never have noticed the limitations. This is the fourth time I have seen the play, starting with James Corden as Francis, and it has never failed to make me laugh out loud, even knowing what is to come, which is a tribute to not only a very good cast but Richard Bean’s marvellous writing, which, in truth, is the real star of the show, a masterclass in comedy creating a real laugh a minute, very English, night of mayhem.

Opening night had a problem of its own incidentally – a complete sell out with people being turned away at the door – so after a cracker of a first night, word of mouth could make it the hottest ticket in town, so book now to avoid disappointment. To 10-09-16.

Roger Clarke


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