One Man, Two Guvnors is a fast, funny and furious farce

THE National Theatre’s comedy One Man, Two Guvnors, currently on its biggest-ever tour, will reach Dublin’s Bord Gais Energy Theatre next week. If ever you needed a tonic to lift the gloom of winter, then this is most certainly it.

Leaving the theatre with your sides aching is guaranteed.

Written by Richard Bean, it’s based on Goldoni’s classic Italian commedia dell-arte farce, A Servant of Two Masters, but in the visionary hands of the National Theatre it turns into Carry On Britain, conducted at a cracking pace. Already seen by over a million people worldwide, this smash-hit is a glorious celebration of all that is best about English comedy, from satire to songs, slapstick to soaring one-liners.

The plot is incredibly complex, therein lying most of the fun, but take a criminal underworld in early 1960s Brighton, throw in dangerous gangland bosses, dumb blondes, aspiring actors, grieving girls masquerading as their murdered brothers, affable idiots who try to combine two jobs without letting either employer know, even flashes of Shakespeare, plus acrobatics, and you’re in for a hilarious evening.

Even the audience is drawn in on the act. And the stage staff. And to top it all, there is a truly wonderful skiffle band, rattling washboard and all, linking the scenes with lively songs to suit the situation.

Everybody dashes in, rushes out, collides, mistakes identity, misconstrues the situation, overacts, dramatises — but never ever loses the plot. Comedy is proverbially difficult to do well and so often slapstick onstage gets carried away with its own success, but this team is production-perfect. As, after all, you would expect from the National Theatre.

I caught up with the production when it was playing at Bath’s Theatre Royal and, having witnessed the breakneck speed with which the piece was performed — think Feydeau farce on fast-forward — I enquired of deputy stage manager Tracy Haddock how on earth the team manages to adapt to so many different stages, in so many varying venues.

“It does take a bit of work at each new location, and a run-through is essential every time. You might have lots of space in the wings at one, and very little at the next, some strange quirk of layout that you didn’t expect — but the show has to be ready to move at that same speed on opening night, no matter where you are. The available space here, for example, is quite limited.”

We are standing on the splendid stage of the Bath Theatre Royal, gazing out over the huge auditorium. Not large enough? Surely she must be joking.

“No, it’s the stage that matters and backstage. We have a lot of props that have to be ready and waiting and then stored safely for their next entrance.” (There is an exploding tablecloth at one juncture.) The National Theatre brings its own stage floor which is a patchwork of tiny tape markers, indicating where everybody and everything has to be at any given moment.

Another problem can be the lack of drive-in space for the three 40ft trucks which carry the show.

“Here we could only bring one truck in at a time. But the Bord Gais theatre is excellent, lots of space. We’ll have no problem there.”

One Man, Two Guvnors, is at the Bord Gais Theatre, November 17-22.


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