I was attracted to this, despite its awful title, by the name of Richard Bean whose The Big Fellah impressed me at Liverpool Playhouse earlier in the year. It’s well worth seeing though I suspect its sold-out notices owe less to RB than to Jemes Corden (Smithy out of Gavin and Stacey).
The play is a free adaptation of Carlo Goldoni’s Il Servitore di due Padroni with conscious forays into the commedia dell'arte tradition using devices like improvisation, music, acrobatics, audience involvement etc. Corden was pretty resourceful here, though not, to my mind, entirely natural - you could almost hear his brain ticking over at times. He is Francis Henshall, the ‘one man’ of the title, and his 'two guvnors' are the patrician Stanley Stubbins played by Oliver Chris with a bit too much of Rik Mayall’s Flasheart to be entirely original and ‘Roscoe’ Crabbe a dead gangster impersonated by his sister Rachel – Jemima Rooper in a cross-dressing role. One might think the gamine Ms Rooper would be ideal as a male impersonator but for me it didn’t work. Obviously the audience is meant to be in on the secret but I couldn’t help thinking none of the ‘victims’ of her deception would have been fooled for a minute by this petite, high-voiced hoodlum so even the limited suspension of disbelief required for farce was difficult, She was more like a pantomime principal boy. Suzie Toase as another stock character - the ott man-eater, Dolly - was much better, I thought.
The play itself is very entertaining with its threadbare plot stretched for all it was worth (a lot more than it was worth, to be honest) to contain broad humour, wry social comment, acrobatics – the pratfalls of Tom Edden as ancient waiter Alfie are a show in themselves – and the compulsory batch of tender love stories. A live skiffle band (The Craze) covers warm-ups ( they’re playing as the audience take their seats) and scene changes and most of the principals provide a musical act of sorts themselves – the three femaile leads as a close harmony Beverley Sisters type group are a delight.
Once again the sold-out signs were no match for my willingness to stand at the back (a bargain at £5) but there’ll be plenty of opportunities to see this piece when it transfers to the West End after a short tour. Tour locations are:
Waterside, Aylesbury 27/9-1/10
Theatre Royal, Plymouth 4/10-8/10
Lowry, Salford 11/10-15/10
New Alexandra, Birmingham 18/10-22/10
Kings Theatre, Edinburgh 25/10-29/10
No masterpiece, perhaps; but a great night out. Recommended.