Friday, 23 September 2016

"One Man Two Guvnors" by Festival Players
Loughborough Town Hall.
The play is billed as "The Funniest Play In The Western World" and you know what, I second that because it's packed with so many incredibly funny lines, and I've seen it several times but it still feels so fresh.
Fired from his skiffle band, Francis Henshall becomes minder to Roscoe Crabbe, a small time East End hood, now in Brighton to collect £6,000 from the dad of his fiancee. But Roscoe is really his sister Rachel posing as her own dead brother, who has been killed by her boyfriend Stanley Stubbers.
Holed up at The Cricketers Arms, the permanently ravenous Francis spots the chance of an extra meal ticket and takes a second job with one Stanley Stubbers, who is hiding from the police and waiting to be reunited with Rachel. To prevent discovery, Francis must keep his two guvnors apart. Simple.
The play is like a bottle of wine, fruity, fizzy, very smooth and gets better with age and like a good cheese matures well and gets tastier every time you go back for a piece.
I could go into the history of the play and it's Italian roots and "Commedia Dell'arte" but what really matters here is that it is so very funny when performed with the panache and comedy timing of The Festival Players.
I've seen this play several times performed both by professional actors and non professionals (I don't like to use the word amateur), and I've loved every show, and this production is up there with the rest, showing that as long as you do a good play justice, you won't spoil anything.
James Daw is made for the role of Francis Henshall, or maybe Francis Henshall was made for James Daw. Either way this is the closest you'll get to James Corden recreating his role as our quick thinking hero. James works so well and so naturally, whether it's the frantic farcical moments, the slapstick or the audience working, her was in his element and so much more funnier than Rufus Hound or Norman Pace, the pros I've seen doing Henshall. 
Every single one of the cast were perfect for their roles and none more than Kirt Hammonds as Stanley Stubbers, the fiance of Rachel Crabbe and murderer of Rachel's brother, Roscoe. His portrayal was part John Cleese, part Robbie Rotten (kids will know Lazytown) and part Stan Smith (American Dad) in his look and sound and for me has just as good a script as Henshall. Great comedy timing and some wonderful facial contortions which made his role an absolute joy to watch.
Rachel Ingham (Rachel Crabbe) again perfectly cast as the Roscoe twin, and as Roscoe, well dead Roscoe. Rachel gets to deliver a mouthful of a speech, describing how twins are formed which richly deserved that audience appreciation she received.
Steve Illidge (Charlie Clench), don't you think Clench is a surname was made in comedy heaven? A wonderful wide-boy role who reminded me so much of how Bob Hoskins would have played the part.
Simon Page (Lloyd) providing some comic revelations and reflections of his time inside adds to the comedy.
Hannah Levenston (Pauline Clench) is wonderfully dotty, a beautiful airhead and played to simple (take that whatever way you wish) perfection. She has some incredibly well written comic lines which are delivered with spot on comedy timing and feeling.
Henry North (Alan Dangle) is the over the top wannabe thespian. it's not often that a play is written with so many secondary characters who have such wonderful lines and character driven and Henry is fantastic as this drama queen who's in love with Pauline, so much so that he will fight to the death for her, whether that be Pauline's death or someone else's. A wonderful fop of a character.
Nick Grainger (Harry Dangle), a solicitor and father of Alan Dangle. Another secondary character with a few funny passages to add to the play, especially the legal jargon section.
Julie Easter (Dolly) is the character with all the brains in this play and also the tightest clothes as well (I'm a bloke, I notice these things on a purely professional and artistic level). Dolly is Francis' object of desire, after haddock, chips and mushy peas that is. Played to perfection and for some reason I could see a glimpse of Yootha Joyce's sauciness with Julie. What a lovely character driven role for Julie.
Chris Marshall plays Gareth the chef, Dan Grooms has a wonderfully slapstick tole as the 86, or is that 87 year old Alfie. How he can act that bent double i don't know. Dan's performance reminded me so much of Dick Emery's old geezer character. Very very funny, and I hope that the bruises heal soon after the run.
A play like this needs good stage management, due to the high energy and slapstick comings and goings through those doors, which make a good farce, and Benjamin Hardy is quite obviously just as talented back stage as he is front stage. As far as you could see everything ran like clockwork, proof of a good stage manager.
Directed by Amy Walters, This isn't the easiest of plays to direct, I'd imagine, but what a success from a directorial point of view.
Classic set design by Andrew McGowan, The sets were very smoothly positioned, also thanks to the trio covering just long enough with their skiffle band. Ted Ragg, Michael Fenton and Brian Rodwell providing the musical fill ins.
Audience participation and Francis' improvisation skills, sorry James' skills, make for a different show every night. Additions to the script also keep that fresh feel and even back in 1963, when the action is set, they managed to predict two women Prime Ministers, keeping the show topical and up to date. Some lovely script additions making this show definitely one of the funniest shows I've seen, In fact I can't remember the last time I heard so many guffaws and proper belly laughs resounding around Loughborough Town Hall. 
An excellent cast, an excellent production and excellent to see such a full theatre this late in the run. "The Funniest Show In the Western World" I'd back that statement to the hilt!
This is the first production I've seen from The Festival Players, but I really hope that I get invited back to see more from this wonderful, talented group.
"One Man Two Guvnors" is at Loughborough Town Hall until Saturday 24 September 2016.

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