Last night we welcomed the Isle of Man’s very own Rushen players to take to the stage to perform One Man, Two Guvnors by Richard Bean. This side-splitting play is based on the 18th century Italian play Servant of Two Masters by Carlo Goldoni. It revives the commedia dell’arte style comedy play, replacing the original Italian setting with Brighton in 1963. This challenging piece has many elements of comic farce including mistaken identity, characters falling over and door slamming.
The play follows the character of Francis Henshall (John Walker) who is hired by both Rachel Crabbe (Catie Angus), disguised as her dead twin brother Roscoe, and Stanley Stubbers (Michael Williams), Rachel’s lover who in fact murdered Roscoe. Francis is determined to keep the two separated as he enjoys receiving two salaries. To add to the mix, Charlie Clench (Brian Matthews) is the gang boss and his daughter Pauline (Ailish Angus) is engaged to marry Roscoe but plans to elope with the old-school amateur actor Alan Dangle (Steve Blower). Ultimately, Francis drives the first act through his need of food and the second half is directed by his lust for the alluring Dolly (Caroline Jones), Charlie’s book keeper, whilst constantly preventing his two employers from meeting.
Bean’s comedy needs to be executed with “clockwork precision”, something the adjudicator, Mike Tilbury, believed to be a vital element of such a physically comedic piece. Although it was a valiant effort from the Rushen Players, this precision was not evident throughout their performance and more work needs to be put into their comic timing, pace and physicality. However, Walker’s Francis was played well, this role is a big responsibility and Walker had good physicality and great audience contact, particularly through his character’s asides. On the other hand I felt as though he could really push his obsession with food in the first act, which was echoed in the adjudication, and develop his comic character even further, which improved as the performance progressed. In the restaurant scene there were brilliant sound effects for Alfie (Jack Verity), the elderly waiter, falling down the stairs which provided great comic moments. Verity’s Alfie had a good stage presence, brilliantly funny entrances and exits during this scene and his body language was great but it could be developed even more, the adjudicator felt his walk in particular could be more chaotic throughout the action. This scene also provided us with some seeming audience participation with the ingénue character (Sharon Roberts) however it was not believable, Roberts should be much more natural in her cameo role, a point the adjudicator made strongly. This role needs to make the audience believe she is not part of the production and unfortunately was very farfetched.
The major comic scenes need to be improved by working on pace, cue pick-ups, entrances and exits. Overall, as the play progressed we saw the actors settle into their characters and I felt most of them improved through the performance. Jones who played Dolly showed good understanding of her character but she needed to slow her lines down and act with more energy, however her lines about the power of women in reference to Margaret Thatcher were strong and clear. Both Williams’ Stanley and Angus’ Rachel as Roscoe had good stage presence and brilliant acting voices however, the adjudicator pointed out that Williams’ accent needs work and Angus was worse when she portrayed just Rachel and advised her to work on that part of her characterisation.
All the costumes were appropriate for each character, in particular Matthews’ suit for the role of Charlie was brilliantly selected and the costume of Jones’ Dolly reflected her personality and the period well. However, the adjudicator suggested that Walker’s costume and mannerisms needed further consideration as they did not completely portray the roguish nature of Francis. There should be slick scene changes in all productions, especially in such a fast paced piece like One Man, Two Guvnors, but Rushen Players’ scene changes were long, laboured and unorganised. This was possibly caused by moving the production from a smaller stage at the Erin Arts Centre where it was performed before Christmas, to the larger Gaiety stage but can be rectified with more rehearsals for the stage crew. Some of the sets lacked detail, however the set design of the Brighton Pier was excellent as there was a creative use of fairy lights, blue gels and sound to set the mood of the water.
As a whole the Rushen Players’ version of Bean’s play was a gallant effort making an enjoyable experience for the audience. Overall, it was a very daring performance as the adjudicator stated that it is the “most difficult and challenging play” to be presented in the 2016 Easter Festival. The cast has great potential to develop their performance further and it was a really entertaining evening.
- Megan Rossiter, MADF Official Reviewer