‘One man, two guvnors’ … one great night out
Richard Bean’s re-working of an 18th century Commedia dell’arte by Carlo Goldoni at The National Theatre in 2011 was not, on the face of it, a nailed-on triumph in prospect. In the event though, One Man, Two Guvnors with James Corden in the lead became a runaway success, transferring to the West End and then on to Broadway. It’s a brilliant and hilarious play when performed by seasoned and highly talented professionals, but how would it fair in the hands of the entirely amateur company at The Stables theatre in Hastings? Toby Sargent was at the first night to find out.
I saw One Man, Two Guvnors during one of its West End runs, with Rufus Hound taking the part of Francis Henshall, the massive lead role that calls for a tour-de-force of comic timing, physical acting and just plain likeability from the fellow that has to carry it off.
Kitson Wellard – ‘simply brilliant’
In the end it is that part that carries the whole show. The other performers can produce magic by the bucketful, but if the ‘one man’ in the title does not convince, then the whole ship goes down.
So how fortunate we were that The Stables company, every one of them amateurs with day jobs elsewhere, could call on the talent of Kitson Wellard to fill the role made famous by James Corden.
Let’s not beat around the bush: he is simply brilliant. With an enormous stage presence, wonderful characterisation and an ability to hold the audience with pitch-perfect acting, he has an effortless comic charm that had the first night audience howling with laughter.
Twists and turns
I won’t sketch out the plot – if you’ve already seen it, then you’ll know already; and if you haven’t, you’ll not be much the wiser when I try to do so. Suffice it to say, it’s a farce set in the seedy back streets of Brighton in 1963, with a heap of twists and turns and an inevitable happy ending. And if you don’t like farces, don’t worry – this one is achingly funny, subverting the genre with a nod to the comic cunning of plays like Noises Off, and a real warmth that allows the audience to sit back and enjoy the sheer fun of it without too much concern for the narrative.
But The Stables production, directed with verve and swagger by Christopher Lacey, is not a one man show. Yes, Kitson Wellard is astoundingly good, but Philip Blurton as Charlie ‘The Duck’ Clench bangs out dry one-liners like a seasoned pro and Bill Allender as Charlie’s lawyer, Harry Dangle, is a delight.
Zola Thomas as the savvy but sexy Dolly, Sophie Allender as the lovely-but-clueless Pauline, and Rob Dyer as the hapless Alfie also deliver fine performances amongst a really strong cast.
In a clever touch, the 1960s mood is set by a live band – Vic Payne and the Smoking Jackets – playing in the bar before the show and during the interval.
It’s a cracking night out and all the better for having come from our own community and being staged by a company that is an exemplar of how the performing arts can – and should – operate in a local setting. It’s on until 11 February, so get along to see it while you can: you won’t be disappointed.
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