|One Man, Two Guvnors|
Photograph:Tristram Kenton for the Guardian
“Fired from his skiffle band, Francis Henshall (James Cordon) becomes minder to Roscoe Crabbe, a small time East End hood, now in Brighton to collect 6,000 from his financee’s dad.”
What is a skiffle band? What's a minder? Where is Brighton?
There was more information in that first sentence than any of the three of us could process. To start with, I am the musician and I was asking them what a skiffle band is. They didn’t know either, so we settled down in our seats and hoped the play would do its own job of letting us know the plot.
For the first five minutes I couldn’t understand a word on stage, even if it was English. I was thinking, hey, at least in the opera we get subtitles, but I am not catching one bit of dialogue that is going on down there under the proscenium arch. I hope Ceilidh and Dalton don’t revolt on me.
But it wasn’t long until my ear settled in and that must have happened to the kids as well, because soon everyone on our row was doubled over with laughter. The verbal humour was good when I got it. The body humour painfully close to home, especially in one of the minor characters, a 87 year old waiter who was beginning his first day on the job. He walked across the stage, on hand trembling by his side, the other hand on a dish carrying soup and his hand was shaking so much that the two dishes were clanking together in uninterrupted motions of going backward and forward, almost tipping out of his hand at every step, yet never doing so.
The old man got knocked over a banister and down the stairs, only to walk right back up them; he was smashed behind doors when they opened, and at one point, died on stage, only to be revived when Henshell turned up the electricity on his pace maker, making the old man jump up and run around the stage like bunny with batteries that never stops. Just when he seemed well again, someone ran into the room and clopped him on the head with a cricket paddle, decking him again.
Photo: Alastair Muir
Two hundred and sixty years later we were enjoying an update on an old classic. How cool was that for an anniversary date.
And about the skiffle band, the one referred to in the chap sheet? Well, our play was set in 1963, a time when skiffle bands had been popular in England. Skiffle is a type of popular music with jazz, blues, folk, roots and country influences, usually played using homemade or improvised instruments.
Why I am telling you this is that we had a skiffle band play for us before the show started and then as every scene changed, back on stage the musicians came with music that moved the plot along. They returned with different iterations of actors and musicians – playing the washboard, the spoons, the bicycle horns, steel drums. If a person went to the show just to hear the musicians who did the inter-acts, they would have been well rewarded. One Man, Two Guvnors well deserves its next move -- to the Adelphi Theatre in London next month.