One Man, Two Guvnors stands as a magnificent testament to what students can achieve in only three-and-a-half weeks: A side-splitting comedic peruse through 1960s racism, misogyny and self-satirising of English sensibilities. Originally adapted by Richard Bean from the commedia dell’arte, ‘Servant of Two Masters’, director Isobel Sinclair adeptly shifts the optics of the play to take aim at many of the absurdities found in St Andrean culture, all the while maintaining Bean’s plot, setting and overall prose.
Francis Henshall is the bumbling unemployed skiffle (Ed Polsue), who unwittingly finds himself suddenly employed by two ‘guvnors’; the upper-class Stanley Stubbers (Louis Wilson) and the gangster, Roscoe Crabbe (Lydia Milne). As a convention of the commedia dell’arte genre, the plot is unnecessarily complicated by Roscoe Crabbe’s actually being a girl, Rachel, who is on her own quest to re-discover her lost lover, Stanley. Underpinning this is the hilariously superfluous sub-plot involving Charlie the Duck organising his daughter’s (Fiona McNevin) engagement to Roscoe, despite the fact she is in love with the melodramatic thespian, Alan Dangle (Jack Malone).
The plot is chaotic and lacks internal logic, but this is characteristic of the genre and only improves upon the farce. Ed Polsue played Francis as a well-meaning simpleton who manages to scheme and lie his way out of every situation. His command of the stage was exceptional – which is necessary for a character who anchors the entire plot, and his commitment to the part was admirable. Ed had no qualms about throwing liquids over himself, chucking himself off chairs or taking a beating from a dustbin lid. And due to this, he provided an audience with a delightfully amusing performance. But it is his improvisational talent which really makes him stand out: A wonderful example of this was when an audience member offered up their sandwich, threatening to derail the entire play, but Ed handled it with consummate expertise – arguably enhancing the quality of the overall performance, rather than undermining it.
Louis Wilson’s portrayal of Stanley Stubbers was also brilliant; perfectly capturing the bombastic country-toff archetype, with stunning belligerence and a comical gait, Wilson’s performance exemplified the lovable, but supremely moronic and antiquated English gentleman, and indeed, when permitted, Stanley’s genuinely sad moments gave ample opportunity for Louis to show his broad acting range. Lydia Milne played the dichotomous Rachel/Roscoe very well, balancing the tenderness of Rachel and the grizzly working-class aggression of Roscoe. Jack Malone offered an amusing self-satirising of the overbearing thespian, while Ben Hood did well to portray the pretentious and self-righteous lawyer, Harry Dangle. Alex Wood and Xavier Atkins gave superbly
Del-Boyesque renderings of their characters while Fiona McNevin captured the humorous idiocy of hers. Lucy Bidie’s portrayal of the quick-witted Dolly was lucidly comical, even among the more politicised moments of her character. However, a surprising highlight of the performance was Charlie Flynn’s portrayal of Alfie, a senile and vacant faced butler. Flynn, while being omitted from the programme, stole the show with his tremendously funny performance, quickly becoming an audience favourite.
For a student production, there is surprisingly little to be criticised, but it must be said the dance routines did become quickly tedious, and the scene transitions were sometimes a little on the long side. Additionally, the audience participation felt a little brutal at moments which caused some awkwardness. But ultimately, these very peripheral flaws were inconsequential given the captivating ensemble performance and brilliant execution of gags and jokes. All in all, One Man, Two Guvnors is one of those rare performances that leave a long-lasting impression, setting a very high bar for successive Byre productions.