Italian dramatist Carlo Goldoni penned his comedy The Servant of Two Masters way back in in 1746. More than 200 years later Richard Bean has used it for the basis of the best farce I’ve seen in years - One Man, Two Govnors. A bedwettingly funny reminder of just how bloody good a dose of slapstick and lovingly silly classic British comedy can be.
Now, you may have got wind of James Cordon winning international acclaim for his role in this show as red faced and bumbling lackey Francis Henshall, but the cast touring with this National Theatre production, featuring standup comedian Rufus Hound as the check suited scamp, have kept up the pace and are absolutely spot on.
Lovingly set in a colourful ‘post spiv’ postcard Brighton in the early 60s we are immediately tempted with fond memories of Carry On films and St Trinians as we are introduced to the larger than life characters in their period suits and hairdos.
Failed skiffle player Francis is a food loving fella whose wily plan to cash in on the opportunity two serve masters, one upper class twit and one cockney villain (back from the dead in drag – it’s complicated), spirals into side splitting farce in a whirl of superbly timed slapstick, sharp gags and quick witted improv. Ricocheting from minding one demanding guvnor to the other as he desparately trys to keep them apart, only to discover there is far more to the two than meets the eye.
Seasoned standup Rufus brings a mercilessly witty edge to unfolding onstage situations and hapless front row audience members. In one moment his hungry character is pleading for a bite to eat in the story only to be offered a sandwich from an audience wag, the next 5 minutes of humus filled put downs and off script improv is just the sort of thing which makes this show so good.
The physical comedy reaches a climax with a genius performance from unsteady Octagenarian waiter Alfie played by Peter Caulfield, who lurches from one increasingly un-PC accident to another, as we watch open mouthed in mirth filled disbelief as they crank up his pacemaker to new heights.
The whole cast were on great form, with well polished performaces from the likes of Edward Bennett as manicly posh Stanley, guvnor number two, ditsy daughter Pauline played by Kellie Shirley, or Leon Williams as her pretentious wanna-be-actor suitor. They were all superb. The icing on the cake? An excellent period skiffle band to provide the score and interval entertainment. The TR lineup for 2013 is going to have a tough one besting this.
One Man Two Guvnors plays at Nottingham's Theatre Royal until Saturday 2nd February 2013.