An energetic and riotous slice of fun

One Man Two Guvnors Cast photo by Martin Smith
One Man Two Guvnors Cast photo by Martin Smith

One Man, Two Guvnors: one show, one long dose of riotous escapism at the Devonshire Park Theatre. The short-season summer production from Eastbourne Theatres is an absolute winner.

A story of shady gangsters and suspected murder, set in Brighton? It rings of Graham Greene’s classic Brighton Rock, but you’d need to look pretty hard to find any themes remotely as heavy or sinister in this knockabout comedy of confusions.

There are pratfalls aplenty, actors are bounced and buffetted around the stage, and Peter Lovstrom as a wonderful geriatric waiter takes several tumbles

They all bounce back, of course, and the brilliant physical comedy is actually the mainspring of the play. There is running dialogue with the audience – in fact, sit in the front three rows of the stalls and you might just be offered a walk-on part…

The plot is in the title. Aidan O’Neill in the title role is engaging, roguishly endearing and inexhaustibly funny. He is onstage almost throughout, and he single-handedly steers the slapstick dining scene which ends Act One – a masterpiece of both direction and execution.

The play teems with ridiculous character parts. Ruth Westley steals the acting honours as the moll disguised as her dead twin brother – don’t ask. Patric Kearns is a rather cuddly crook, Matt Devitt – as well as directing the band – is the dodgiest of bent lawyers, and George Jennings is priceless as post-adolescent failed-Hamlet actor Alan. Deliciously mannered Dylan Turner is rather too Country Life to be a proper gangster, but heck, that’s how it’s written. Blondes come no dumber than Celeste Collier’s haplessly funny Pauline, and Jessica Warbeck does a lovely world-weary and slightly Amazonian Dolly. Other fine support comes from Trevor Georges and Callum Hughes.

Music is integral – and what a treat. Several of the cast are actor-musicians, and in virtually every scene drop, an accomplished rock-cum-skiffle band superbly recreates those classic sounds of 1963.

Most of the confusions are quite contrived, and by the second half the plot is collapsing like a house of cards, but nobody minds. The joy of One Man, Two Guvnors is that it is unashamedly different. It fits no category – not a corny summer show or a creaky farce or a predictable thriller. The actors are probably on intravenous adrenalin, but unless they run out of energy first, the production runs until July 22nd.

This is theatre with the handbrake off: jump aboard, hang on very tight and you’ll love the ride.