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Review: One Man, Two Guvnors at the Sunderland Empire, until Saturday

The National Theatre's hit comedy One Man, Two Govnors has touched down at the Sunderland Empire

****
Gavin Spokes and Emma Barton
Gavin Spokes and Emma Barton

I needed my interval drink after what happened to an audience member just before the break… but I can’t tell you why.

I don’t want to give away too many of the jokes either. So shall we stop here? Better not.

Let me tell you that one man, two plates and a knife and fork drew just one of the big laughs in this hugely daft show on opening night.

Carried by game old waiter Alfie, “87”, played by Michael Dylan, they rattled at a volume which made dialogue impossible. And then his clowning began in earnest.

Richard Bean’s play has many moments of comedy gold and the show belongs to Gavin Spokes as hapless Francis Henshall, a role made famous by James Corden in London’s West End.

Spokes has the same warmth as the Gavin and Stacey star as he moves within and comfortably beyond the fourth wall, discussing sandwich fillings with those seated in the stalls and breaking into laughter as improbable scenarios mount up.

Based on an 18th century play, Carlo Goldoni’s The Servant of Two Masters, it is brought right up to date by Richard Bean for the National Theatre … well, as far as the 1960s.

Full of references to Princess Margaret’s partying and the changing world for women, scenes are divided by performances from the sharp and shiny-suited house band, who start with skiffle and move into Beatles territory.

All the cast have their musical moments, bare-chested or otherwise. These interludes add to the feelgood vibe, though I would have liked fewer of them.

Dodgy deals, starcrossed lovers, mistaken identities, twins and other favourite Shakespearean comedy devices feature along with bawdy jokes and plenty Carry On-style crotch and boob-centred physical comedy, also known as grabbing.

I drew back at some of the stupidity of the plot and actions. But my favourite funny moments included the nonsensical posturing of the bendy-legged wannabe Actor with a capital A, played by Edward Hancock, and the terrible exclamations and linguistic tortures of wide-eyed posh idiot Stanley, played by Patrick Warner.

He declares early on: “I’m just happy if I have a bed, a chair and no one p***ing in my face!”

If bad language offends, consider yourself warned, as there is a little of it. But the piece as a whole is innocent fun with belly laughs and a real escape from dreary January days.

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