Review of the Show
Photos Link: https://photos.app.goo.gl/2CHu9c1kD2bQCC6t5
For the second time in as many days I found myself at a production that in its original incarnation was written a very long time ago. On this occasion it was a comedy by Richard Bean that is an adaptation of Carlo Goldoni’s 1743 play, Servant of Two Masters, and I can only hope that those 18th-century audiences enjoyed themselves as much as we did.
Although I was aware of the play, first seen at the National Theatre in 2011, I had never seen it – but friends who were with us had seen that original and confirmed that this production compared very favourably. I’d have been disappointed if they’d said anything else since we had an absolute ball watching it, as presumably did others, judging by the standing ovation at the end from some areas of the auditorium.
The play is billed as a comedy, but is actually far more of a farce as there is much rushing into different rooms, getting knocked backwards by doors opening and some gloriously intentional over-acting. It would take forever for me to give you a synopsis, so suffice to say that it is set in Brighton, begins with an engagement party, strongly features (naturally) a man who is working for two different people and all ends happily ever after – but not before a fair amount of ‘audience participation’ involving a heavy trunk, soup, other food items and a fire extinguisher.
Playing Francis Henshall, the ‘one man’ of the title, is Mathew Walker. He barely leaves the stage and gives the most wonderfully manic performance, not least when he eats a letter in his desperate quest for food or pretends to be the non-existent Paddy, attempting to kiss Dolly (a superb Shannon Fisher). He also proves to be rather good at instilling fear into those audience members sitting at the front, or by gangways, as he seeks out people to help him with some of his jobs. Never have I seen so many people staring intently at their feet, hoping that they have somehow become invisible.
His ‘two guvnors’, Rachel Crabbe and Stanley Stubbers, are very strongly played by Bethany Tyler and Chris March and among the rest of this truly exceptional cast there are particularly stand-out performances from Dean Rawson as would-be actor Alan Dangle and Jack Haberfield, on the brink of taking his A Levels, as the 80-something Alfie who has numerous brushes with disaster, causing him to be knocked out or fall spectacularly out of sight. I loved those falls but his attempts to open a bottle of wine almost led to me being escorted from the auditorium in hysterics. Pure genius.
Plaudits must also go to director Ollie Blake for making this such a fun evening – even the obligatory ‘please turn off your mobile phones’ had a new slant to it – and to the two un-named musicians for their super music.
Linda Kirkman – SceneOne