By Richard Bean. Directed by Angus Evans. New Theatre, Newtown, NSW. 22 Mar – 15 April, 2023
Reviewed : March 26, 2023
Richard Bean’s whacky adaptation of Carlo Goldoni’s 1746 commedia dell’arte play, Servant of Two Masters, has been doing the rounds since 2011. And no wonder! It’s funny, suggestive and gives contemporary commedia buffs a chance to do their zany stuff – pratfalls, acrobatics, chases, falls, poses, banter and some judicious over-acting!
Director Angus Evans describes it as “one of the most brilliantly stupid plays ever written” and his production at the New lives up to his description, despite the fact that it’s been a hard row for Evans to hoe. The play was beset by the latest Covid wave and opening night had to be delayed for a week. Then, at the last minute, Evans himself had to step into one of the roles. He attributes the eventual realisation of the play to “a group of volunteers working tirelessly and a cast of naturally gifted clowns that have brought pure joy to every rehearsal”.
Those ‘clowns’ and that ‘joy’ is certainly evident in the production. The cast – and the musicians who strum and sing between acts – enjoy every one-hundred and thirty minutes of this play that Evans describes as a “Britcom of the 60’s … laced with the bigotry and exclusion of that era”. An apt description – but he feels they have “unravelled” the stereotypes with a cast that is “made up of people of different gender, race, sexuality and ability” that might be “a glimpse of a future (or a present) where the marginalised are part of these comedies where they once weren’t”.
That diverse “group of people” are led by Tristan Black who plays Francis Henshall, the hungry, harried ‘batman’ trying to serve ‘two gun’nors’.
Black is a ball of energy. He talks quickly, moves quickly, somersaults, cartwheels, trips, jumps and falls, yet never misses the beat of the comedy nor the integration with the other cast members that is so necessary in a play such as this. If it’s not fast, the action and the dialogue just don’t work – and Black sustains that speed, whether racing in and out of doors with plates of food, soft-talking each of his masters, or throwing cheeky asides to the audience. This is a hard, busy role on which much of the action depends, and Black’s energy and focus never fail.
Eleanor Ryan and Patrick Cullen are his “guv’nors”. Ryan is Rachel, disguised as her twin brother, Roscoe, a gangster who was murdered by Stanley (Cullen) an upper-class poser, who is also Rachel’s lover. Both are trying to find each other. Both are staying at the same hotel. Both employ Francis, who runs between them, carrying messages, ironing shirts, ordering food … and desperately trying to keep them apart.
Tying the two together are brash con man Charlie (Joe Clements), his ditzy daughter Pauline (Angharad Wise) and his sexy accountant Dolly (Anna Dooley). Pauline had been ‘betrothed’ to Roscoe – for a sum! – but is now in love with aspiring actor Alan (Angus Evans), son of Charlie’s lawyer, Harry (Amy Victoria Brooks. When Rachel appears impersonating Roscoe, Pauline’s new romance is blighted.
Obviously the plot doesn’t thicken! It just gets sillier. That’s what commedia is all about – a simple plot around which a lot of silly things happen.
Those ‘silly things’ can only happen on a set that can accommodate slamming doors, falls down invisible stairs and 3 or 4 different venues. Jess Zlotnick ‘s set manages to do all of this very efficiently – with the help of another comic routine and a very efficient stage crew. The sets are as colourful as the characters. They are a credit to Zlotnick’s vision – and the team of volunteers who constructed them.
One Man, Two Guv’nors is fast and funny and Evans and his cast and crew certainly seem to enjoy making it so.