Sat, 10th October 2019

‘One Man, Two Guvnors’: The Side-Splitting Strategy of Slapstick

Text by: 

Cam Kleoppel

Photo by: 
Mermaids Performing Arts Fund

Reimagined for the likes of modern-day St Andrews, Mermaids’ recent production of ‘One Man, Two Guvnors’ provided audiences with a refreshing, no-holds-barred spectacle full of punching, kicking, punchlines, and nonstop hilarity. The show centers around Francis Henshall (Ed Polsue), a former skiffle band member who ends up employed by two men, Roscoe Crabbe (Lydia Milne) and Stanley Stubbers (Louis Wilson). The relationship between the characters is a confusing web to detangle, and the twisting and turning plot does not help, but the sum of everything somehow turns out to be a delightful St Andrews adaptation of the 1963 Bristol setting.

Sitting alone as I write my first review in my first year with my bright white notepad, I cannot help but feel slightly insecure about my being here, nevertheless thankful that I was not placed in one of the first few rows. Waiting for the lights to go down, I notice the `60s inspired background music, featuring the Beatles, Beach Boys, and anything else you could imagine, oddly relaxing my nerves as I grew more and more eager for the show to start.

The lights go down and when the curtain rises, the stage is crowded with formal, colorfully-dressed characters surrounded by the simple, to-the-point set: bright green walls with a wallpaper of bowler hats and birds, two chairs, and a table that match the eccentricity of the characters.

The first time Ed Polsue bursts through the door onto the stage, even without quite familiarizing myself with the cast yet, I immediately know that his Francis Henshall would be something no one could ignore. Throughout the show, he channels James Corden and Austin Powers, while making his own comedic and artistic choices that make the audience bend over laughing. While sometimes the show would go off the rails in his frequent breaking of the fourth wall, his recovery remained charming and, most importantly, just plain funny.

Roscoe Crabbe (Lydia Milne), in actuality his twin sister, Rachel, in disguise, seems to be the one character with her head straight on her shoulders, filled with rationality and poise. While Milne isn’t always the obvious scene stealer, that is exactly what I appreciate most. The fact that she allows others’ insanity to reflect off of her and recognizes her character’s intelligence and strategy is wonderfully refreshing.

Every character in the show has something new to add to the plot, and Stanley (Louis Wilson), Pauline (Flora McNevin), Alan (Jack Malone), and Dolly (Lucy Bidie) play into their written personality traits to perform as charismatic, enchanting caricatures of themselves. They are unique and unforgettable, and every other supporting cast member contributes to the comedy and art of the show.

The entire cast interacts beautifully and seamlessly with each other, the crew backstage, and the audience as they use audience participation to bring the story up close and personal. Once again, I am ever so glad I did not sit in the first row, as audience members are bombarded with quick quips and jokes, not knowing quite how to react to the actors.

The overarching highlight was the underdog, Alfie, played by the lovable Charlie Flynn. Alfie, the elderly, clueless waiter, is mercilessly beaten up and thrown around throughout the show, and Flynn capitalizes on the audience’s cheering for him in his humble nature, never once breaking character while those around him pause for a second to collect themselves.

Whether it was one of the set changes where actors would lip sync to popular songs in front of the curtain, an interlude of audience participation when Polsue asked the audience for a sandwich and someone actually brought one along, or just a line flub, there were plenty of little hiccups in the show. There existed moments where I wondered whether something was a character choice or an actual mistake, and moments where I felt simply confused about the plot, but that is the point about a comedy like this.

‘One Man, Two Guvnors’ is as much of an interactive experience as it is a comedic play, and the combination of the two is what makes the show as charming and enjoyable as it turned out to be.

The end of the show is a sum of happy endings, proving that when things do not go exactly to plan, or when something seems almost painfully cliché, happy endings are still happy endings, no matter how messy or complicated the journey is.

Mermaids’ ‘One Man, Two Guvnors’ finished its run from Wednesday 2 to Thursday 3 October at the Byre Theatre. For more information on the production,