REVIEW: A triumphant holiday production with anarchic and edgy comedy

Emma Barton and Gavin Spokes. Picture by Johan Persson
Emma Barton and Gavin Spokes. Picture by Johan Persson

One Man, Two Guvnors, Theatre Royal, Brighton

Last year, Brighton’s Christmas audiences were treated to two drag queens and a transexual travelling across Australia in a bus. This year they can look forward to a bit of farting, vigorous audience participation and a visual pun reminiscent of Basil Fawlty’s famous misunderstanding of the difference between a light switch and a sensitive bit of a lady’s anatomy.

ONE MAN TWO GUVNORS by Bean,                      ,Author - Richard Bean, Director - Nicholas Hytner, Designer - Mark Thompson, Lighting - Mark Henderson, The National Theatre, Tour 2014, Credit: Johan Persson - www.perssonphotography.com / SUS-141218-133457003

ONE MAN TWO GUVNORS by Bean, ,Author - Richard Bean, Director - Nicholas Hytner, Designer - Mark Thompson, Lighting - Mark Henderson, The National Theatre, Tour 2014, Credit: Johan Persson - www.perssonphotography.com / SUS-141218-133457003

The National Theatre’s production of One Man, Two Guvnors is the Theatre Royal’s triumphant holiday production. Once again Brighton has turned its back on pumpkins, magic lanterns and beanstalks. Instead it has chosen an anarchic, screamingly funny and edgy night of entertainment – a mirror of the town itself you might say.

One Man, Two Guvnors is based on Goldoni’s The Servant of Two Masters from the sixteenth century Commedia dell’Arte – the first professional European theatre. A round of applause on your exit line meant you often got extra money...and on stage for the first time there were women.

Well. there are plenty of women on the Brighton stage, plenty of exits drowned out by laughter from an audience half collapsed in its seat with laughter...and some very spicy bits too.

Beware – if you sit in the front row you could be called to go ‘over the top.’ When Francis Henshall (Gavin Spokes) said he was hungry and fancied a sandwich, someone in the stalls offered him one...but it wasn’t bacon, it was hummus. How very Brighton! He corpsed – and the sandwich became a running joke.

Another scene which had my dear husband on the floor took place in a restaurant where the hapless Henshall had to serve a three course meal to his two bosses. Cue swinging kitchen service doors, an elderly Irish retainer and a ton of slapstick including a flaming crepe suzette, staff being splattered with tomato soup and the judicious use of a fire extinguisher. I know those doors – readers, we had that restaurant! It happens!

There were delightful verbal and very non PC gags galore; about a lawyer for example: ‘He’s so good he got the Mau Mau off.’

A word too about the magical sets. Apart from a rather samey interior, the curtains later rose on a backdrop of the shimmering sea glimpsed between terraces of pastel Regency houses. Or a landward look at the promenade decorated overall with fairylights against an apricot evening sky.

The jokes were physical too. I have never seen a more energetic, frenetic and committed performance than that given by Gavin Spokes. How the man performs every day – sometimes twice – I cannot imagine. Top dollar too were Emma Barton as the well-endowed Dolly, Derek Elroy as a dry Lloyd Boateng and Elliot Harper whose intentional overacting took on an unearthly life of its own.

Regarding the aforementioned farting – or bottom burps which render choirboys insensible in the aisles with helpless giggling – it reminded me of a party game called rectum-pence much enjoyed by my ex-husband. No wonder the relationship foundered.

I almost forgot. The intervals are enlivened by terrific rockabilly group The Craze. If you want an evening that chases away the darkest days around the solstice - and makes you laugh so much the tears dissolve your mascara, then head to The Theatre Royal (until January 4.)