Slapstick genius


One Man, Two Guvnors
By Richard Bean, Arts Centre Melbourne Playhouse until 22 June
Review by Penny Mulvey


Owain Arthur

Owain Arthur

ONE Man, Two Guvnors is pure old fashioned, slapstick comedy exquisitely performed.

The latest Melbourne Theatre Company offering is another production from the National Theatre of Great Britain, following the impressive season of War Horse over the Christmas period.

Based on The Servant of Two Masters by Carlo Goldoni, playwright Richard Bean has utilised the same genre, commedia dell’arte (comedy of the profession or craft) to tell a humorous story of the criminal underclass of 1960s England.

The mood is set from the moment the audience enters the theatre, with a skiffle band warming up the crowd. The use of live period music during set changes is one of the many engaging features of the production.

Commedia dell’arte was performed by roaming troupes of Italian players from the 16th to 18th centuries, drawing on physical theatre, set character types, comedy and improvisation.

Bean has retained all these theatrical devices in One Man, Two Guvnors, brilliantly executed by the UK performers.

Owain Arthur plays the lead character, the Arlecchino, providing a flawless example of physical comedy and improvisation, ensuring the audience is never sure whether the joke is on the performer or the audience.

The elderly waiter is another classic character type, and whilst a minor part, Mark Jackson’s portrayal of the 87-year-old Alfie is riotous.

The story is a simple one. Street-smart young man in need of a job suddenly finds himself with two ‘guvnors’, both of whom operate on the other side of the law. The humour comes in the Arlecchino’s confusion in juggling the two different employers, neither aware of the other.

If you love feel-good live theatre, without a deep philosophical message, this is definitely one to see…and please let me know if there is banter around a hummus sandwich.

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