By Elliot Kinnear for Vintage Radio theatre and Arts.
“One Man Two Guvnors” – Review
The good news about this play is that you don’t need to read a full review to find out whether or not you’ll enjoy it. I’m a bit of a curmudgeon – normally James, Mike and Jen have to tell me not to be too harsh in reviews, and recently in a NaNoWriMo meet-up I was told it was a bad idea for me to give feedback on first-time writers – but I could end the review right here with the fact that I haven’t had this much fun at a play in a long time and it would tell you everything you needed to know.
This is an outlandish comedy which blends traditional farcical elements with quick-witted modern humour and on-point slapstick, all set in the little-used backdrop of the 1960s. That said, it is not a “sure win” for any company – this play requires a lot of hard work and a punishingly high threshold for talent to make it work. Thankfully for Bebington Dramatic Society, they’re never short on either, and I think this might be one for them to remember proudly in their society for a long time.
The play hinges on the rapid-fire mile-a-minute performances of its leads. Mike Jones takes the central role, masterfully delivering both verbal and physical comedy with precision sure to make him the envy of Merseyside’s other leading male comics for some time to come. The formula he adopts for his performance is one of fantastic balance between energy and approachability, the latter of which he achieves through nothing less than sheer charm. His asides with the audience are some of the highlights of the play, with both smug arrogance and self-deprecating honesty in perfect measure, and the audience is made to feel very much like a fly-on-the-wall. The audience’s involvement is clearly paramount, and with an approach like this it was easy to feel like they were part of the setting and atmosphere itself.
So much can be said about the rest of the cast, but I’ve been told my review for “King & Country” was too long, so as briefly as I can; every member of the cast had so much to offer. Audiences will recognise many recurring favourites such as David Oliver, Keith Hill and James Kay – to say that these three give enjoyable performances is almost too predictable nowadays, from Oliver’s sharp, witheringly witty delivery to Hill’s mastery of slapstick to Kay’s dry wryness and impeccable comic timing. Other familiar faces of the Bebington crew include Jane Wing, who steals every scene of the second act she appears in, and Charlotte Neary, who more and more makes for a commanding presence onstage, and her unabating ferocity makes her a standout performer even in the more crowded scenes.
I was also very pleasantly surprised by the actors I had not seen in a Bebington show yet. Che Cullen cannot be given enough credit for the gusto he gives every line – conversely, Adam Hutton gave a crafty, intriguing performance which just made an audience want his character to have more stagetime (and it has to be said, it is a talented actor who can get progressively bigger laughs from a single one-word joke four times throughout a play). Tim Patenall’s debut performance for Bebington was excellent, and one which has us hoping to see him in more of their shows in the future. Last but not least, Jenny Dewhirst, who has the uncanny ability to get a laugh out of quite literally every single line she said – a true comedic asset to any show. Any director should be happy to have any of this cast in their show, and audiences will certainly be grateful as well.
Speaking of directors, the fact that this play is monstrously difficult on a technical level placed a huge onus on Gareth Jones. Thankfully, the play was assembled and presented with both an air of effortlessness and experience. The play ran like clockwork, and as such even the most ambitious of directions (for example, having a detailed and elaborate set which folded in and around itself to present new settings) were carried out immaculately.
Special mention should also be given to the live band which played between scenes; “Semibreve & the Quavers” played excellent renditions of familiar 1960s classics, and were an original and highly enjoyable addition to the show. Perhaps their involvement could have prompted a slight trimming of the first half, as having a few songs between scenes meant that act one ran to an hour and a quarter. As this is a reasonably modern script, perhaps the production team didn’t feel that they could experiment as much as they wanted to, but there’s never any harm in cutting out ten minutes or so of the less-effective dialogue to make room for a good idea like this one. In any case, any slight pacing issues in the first half were nowhere to be found in the second.
Bebington Dramatic Society still have two more performances of “One Man Two Guvnors” this week on Friday and Saturday at the Gladstone Theatre – if you’re still somehow on the fence about seeing it, I can guarantee you won’t easily find a more enjoyable evening out.