Servants, masters, and lovers–these are the three categories all the characters in “One Man, Two Guvnors” can fall into. The play is based on “The Servant of Two Masters” by Carlo Goldoni, performed in traditional commedia dell’arte style and rooted in physical comedy.
Set in Brighton, England in 1963, Francis Henshall has been fired from his skiffle band and was hired to be the minder to Roscoe Crabbe, a small-town gangster. Roscoe comes to Brighton to collect £6,000 from his fiancée’s gangster father for the deal the two had made regarding an arranged marriage to his daughter, Pauline. Roscoe is really his sister Rachel posing as her own dead brother, who has been killed by her boyfriend Stanley Stubbers. Stanley also becomes Francis’ other “guvnor.” Having not eaten for hours and a mounting sense of confusion, Francis goes out of his way to serve both bosses. Francis must keep the two guvnors apart to prevent either one of them from finding out.
I know, I was confused, too. The synopsis sounds like the play would be difficult to follow but the character of Francis Henshall, played by Steve Krambeck, breaks the fourth wall speaking directly to the audience, giving everyone a chance to catch up. Most of the characters break the fourth wall and talk to the audience which gave the feeling of audience involvement in what was taking place.
Not only that, but a few lucky audience members were brought on stage or allowed say a few lines. There is a moment in the play where a very hungry Henshall struggles to pick up a trunk of Roscoe’s belongings. He asks two men in the audience to move the trunk for him and sends them through a door that no one knows what might be behind it.
There is also the infamous dinner scene where Francis has to keep his two “guvnors” apart in adjacent rooms. With two servers to help him, an old man with a pacemaker and a seasoned waitress, he still needs the help of another audience member to save a few extra scraps of food for himself. He ends up lighting the dessert on fire and the audience member’s hair goes up in smoke before a bucket of water is dumped on her head and is blown with a fire extinguisher. This part makes me think these “audience members” might be in on the show.
Krambeck shines ss Francis throughout the play. His quick wit and humorous hunger-driven decision-making kept the audience laughing throughout the entire play. It was shocking to see Krambeck chew up and eat an entire letter, or slurp up some of his guvnor’s leftover soup right out of the bowl.
While Krambeck is majorly front and center, the rest of the cast adds to the rich performance. Cathy Hirsh as Roscoe/Rachel keeps up her macho vibe without anyone even thinking she is really Rachel. Jon Shaw as Alan Dangle shows just how theatrical an aspiring actor can be. Chris Shonka as Stanley Stubbers gives off an obvious air of a posh man from a private school.
To keep the audience entertained during set changes, there is a Beatles-esque band performing musical interludes with the characters every so often doing a dance or performing a musical instrument of their own. If you’re starved, not for food like Francis, but for a good comedy, then this play is a must-see.