REVIEW: One Man, Two Guvnors (Theatre Royal, Brighton, until Sunday, January 4)

What's on.
What's on.

If pantomime dames, hissable villains, and fairy tale princesses are your sole idea of Christmas entertainment then you need to hurry along to Brighton for the sheer magic of the hilarious One Man, Two Guvnors at some stage during the festive season to have your eyes opened.

Not only is the play probably the funniest thing you are ever likely to see, but this touring production is absolute perfection, with an all-round quality cast and more laughs than you could pull from a million crackers.

Based on Carlo Goldoni’s 18th Century commedia dell’arte masterpiece A Servant of Two Masters, Richard Bean has updated the play to 1960s Brighton and the result is laudable. It is little wonder that this National Theatre production of 2011 has won awards, critical acclaim, and left audiences weak-kneed with mirth over West End and Broadway runs, three UK tours, and even stop-offs in Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand along the way. The only real surprise is that this is the first time it has been in Brighton, which was crying out for it to be performed there given the period setting.

Even those of us who have seen this mixture of music, slapstick and satire before are unlikely to be bored or disappointed, even when you know what’s coming. From the opening entertainment provided by the exceptional band The Craze (who happily crop up throughout the evening) to the final curtain this is a show guaranteed to cast out the winter blues and leave you wanting more.

As Francis Henshall, the ex-skiffle band member who finds himself working for two separate criminals in a bid to earn money for food, Gavin Spokes is tremendous. Every gesture, every wicked one-liner, every aside is timed to perfection, and there’s also a real depth to the lovable and roguish character.

This is an ensemble piece and not one member of the hard-working company lets the side down. The “star names” are Emma Barton as a busty and feisty Dolly and Norman Pace as Charlie, but this is certainly not a show where names matter more than a cast pulling together to create a memorable evening with nods to music hall, Ealing comedies and the silliness of the Carry Ons.

Edward Hancock shines as the wonderfully over the top would-be actor Alan Dangle who has his heart set on marrying the sweet but dim Pauline Clench (a performance of delightful vagueness from Jasmyn Banks). Alicia Davies is spot on as Rachel Crabbe, forced into impersonating her dead brother to catch the person who killed him, and her beau is the criminal toff Stanley Stubbers (superb Patrick Warner). David Verrey as the erudite lawyer Harry and Derek Elroy as Lloyd also add greatly to the whole.

At the end of Act One comes one of the best comic set pieces ever written as Francis battles to serve his two masters separate meals aided and abetted by Eliot Harper’s Gareth and Michael Dylan’s hard done by 87-year-old trainee waiter Alfie. It is not too much to say that the audience is left crying with hysterical laughter at the chaos that ensues.

Original director Nicholas Hytner will be very pleased indeed with this touring version, directed and choreographed exquisitely by Adam Penford. Just as the London and Broadway versions garnered awards, so too this touring production deserves every credit and recognition.

It may not be a fairy tale – but it’s the best present Brighton’s Theatre Royal could possibly give its audiences for Christmas and the New Year. Classy and simply unmissable.