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Theatre Review (London): One Man, Two Guvnors by Richard Bean

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After being lucky enough to catch One Man, Two Guvnors on Broadway over the summer, I was curious to see whether the quintessentially British humour of the play captiviated a West End audience as much as it did the Broadway audience.

My gut feeling was that the exaggerated ‘Britishness’ of Richard Bean’s well structured farce would be a bit too much for a British audience, and a cast that lacks the star quality of the Broadway show would fail to sparkle – particularly without James Corden anchoring the play.

How wrong I was! It turns out One Man, Two Guvnors is a brilliantly funny, smartly observant and downright entertaining piece of theatre on both sides of the Atlantic.

The relatively unknown Owain Arthur is a revelation in the demanding role of Francis Henshall – demonstrating the great comedy timing needed to pull off the slapstick-heavy humour of this play. The manic, high-energy scenes (particularly the ‘dinner-serving’ scenes) are handled with aplomb by Arthur, whose smooth and natural connection with the rest of the cast helps the sometimes unrealistic subject matter seem believable.

The highlight of the Broadway show, for me, was Corden’s ad libbing during the audience participation sections. If you’ve not seen it yet, don’t worry, I won’t spoil the surprise for you! In the West End version, Arthur skillfully deals with these very demanding comedy routines very well, and while he lacks Corden’s natural wit, he demonstrates a lot more warmth, helping the audience feel at ease and comfortable.

Gemma Whelan in the gender-switching role of Rachel Crabbe is also a revelation – bouncing around the stage with energy and purpose, all the time perfectly balancing the delicate task of being a woman who looks like a woman whilst pretending to be a man (no mean feat!).

One Man, Two Guvnors is both a visual and verbal treat, offering quickfire gags with a very high hit rate. If you haven’t seen it yet, I strongly recommend it.

Buy One Man, Two Guvnors tickets

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