Review of One Man, Two Guvnors at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City: ‘Not perfect but it works very well’
PUBLISHED: 14:01 22 January 2017 | UPDATED: 18:53 22 January 2017
One Man, Two Guvnors, the hit stage comedy that made James Corden’s name on Broadway, has opened at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City. Maggie Blackburn reviews the Barn’s production, which runs until Saturday, January 28.
This week’s play at the Barn is a modernised version of an 18th century Italian classic comedy, Goldoni’s The Servant of Two Masters.
Set in Brighton’s criminal underworld in the 1960s, it’s all about a gangster’s ‘minder’, Francis Henshall, who, desperate for money, takes a second job with another guvnor.
It turns out that one guvnor is in fact a woman disguised as her recently dead twin brother, who has been killed by the other guvnor, who happens to be her lover. Complicated?
It gets even more so, when Francis mixes up messages meant for his two guvnors, accidentally manages to convince each of them that the other is dead, prompting them both to attempt suicide, falls in love with a girl, invents another servant looking suspiciously like himself to take all the blame... and finally gets way with everything. Including the girl, of course.
I would have said before seeing this production that it was an impossible play for an amateur group to perform successfully.
It has numerous settings, it requires sophisticated deadpan comic acting, and it is full of the most hair-raising slapstick gags you are ever likely to see.
The Barn production isn’t perfect, but by and large it works very well.
The play itself has some of the funniest and unexpected lines of any comedy I’ve seen, most of them not quite fit to be quoted in a family newspaper.
I actually shouted with laughter at some of them, and my companion guffawed so loudly that he eventually had to be dug in the ribs.
Eamon Goodfellow plays Francis Henshall, and was particularly good in the scenes where he interacts with the audience, full of confidence and ad-libbing with skill.
Carl Westmoreland as the second guvnor, Stanley Stubbings, is a convincing and very funny public-school-educated criminal, and newcomer Kit Allen, playing the ridiculous actor Alan Dangle, succeeds by being totally earnest throughout.
There’s a nice cameo performance too from Adam Dryer as the defence lawyer Harry Dangle, so skilled (we hear) that he got the Mau Mau off!
My favourite performance though was by Kate Humbles, playing Pauline Clench, the most spectacularly dim young woman in the world.
Kate is young, but she has already discovered that the secret of success in comedy is to appear utterly serious.
Kate is also one of the four girls who sing and dance beautifully in the musical intermissions, the others being Hannah Humbles, Anya Garratt, and Hatty Gouldstone.
The National Theatre production was made doubly special by the music provided by a skiffle group, so I was delighted to see the Barn following suit with their own band to cover scene changes and start off each act.
They’re brilliant – congratulations to Rob Wallace, Tom Glinka, and Dan Breeze.
• One Man, Two Guvnors plays at the Barn until Saturday, January 28, with evening performances at 8pm and a matinee on the final day of the run at 2.30pm. All performances are now sold out.
• The Barn’s next production is Accidental Death of an Anarchist, which opens on Friday, February 17.
To book tickets, visit the Barn Theatre’s website at www.barntheatre.co.uk