Thursday, 18 October 2012

One Man, Two Guvnors: Theatre Royal Haymarket- London

13th October 2012

With the audio CD from the National Theatre fresh in my mind, I attended a touch tour and performance of One Man, Two Guvnors ( at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in London.  This was a transfer to London’s West End and is a popular show.  My cousins from Australia and London had gone and encouraged me to attend an audio described version.  The show is written by Richard Bean and is loosely based on Carlo Goldoni’s play One Servant, Two Masters. 

The Haymarket is one of London’s oldest theatres and has many interesting features.  The only play I can remember seeing there years ago was George Bernard Shaw’s The Millionairess starring Penelope Keith.  I had treated my parents to circle seats and we were surprised to hear the National Anthem being played.  In those days it was unusual and it turned out that a junior member of the Firm (British Royal Family), Princess Alexandra, was attending.

On this occasion we were treated to the National Theatre’s Reuben Lane greeting us in front of the theatre, taking “Front of House” extremely seriously.  Once the group had gathered, we entered the auditorium and waited for access to the stage and set.  Roz Chalmers, who had recorded the audio CD guide, and Bridget Crowley were doing the description. 

We were introduced to Chris the company manager and Owain Arthur who plays the central character Frances. Owain is the only obvious Welsh voice on the set and his character was carefully explained with the aid of a spare suit.  This checked suit is important as the production has two suits each for the character and his understudy.  In fact Owain had been the understudy and had taken over the role in his own right for the London run. 

Owain “sweats buckets” with a lot of acrobatic moves and dashing about, so fixing his voice and shape is helpful in following the dialogue.  His jacket (coat) is quite heavy though the trousers (pants) seemed lighter.  Other costumes were brought on and we passed around a policeman’s tunic and helmet as well as a dress worn by the character Pauline in the Beverley Sisters routine.

I explored the set which gave a perspective of a terrace stretching down to the promenade in Brighton, 1963.  This is a trick of the set wings and panels.  The stage is quite steep and an idea of the rake can be gained from backstage gazing out to the auditorium, circle and gallery. 

I was joined by Chris who discussed lighting and I asked how much an actor saw of the audience when playing.  Chris said that on making an entrance there is limited visibility beyond the floodlighting.  The theatre has to apply non slip paint to the stage as the gradient is so steep.  Many theatres have gradually been refitted to a flat surface which can be more multi purpose friendly.  This means that dancers have fewer problems and of course allows ice skaters and roller skaters to move about predictably. The Theatre Royal is, however, ideal for presenting a play like Goldoni’s, which is in the commedia dell’arte tradition. 

The panels were hand painted and I could detect stashes of props.  There is a seaside cut out of WG Grace (cricketer) with a hole for the face of someone to have a picture taken.  WG Grace must have been quite tall and while I am 5 feet 11 and Chris is 6 feet 1, WG Grace was that bit taller (hint).  The bleached blonde wig in a beehive with other wigs was on show.  The hair is human and these cost about £450 each with each actor having a personal wig.  Music features in the show and a steel drum and set of car horns was tried out. 

Owain talked more about his part and explained the nature of the play hinting at some audience participation and some element of improvisation, pantomime, vaudeville and music hall. Somehow we got talking about pyrotechnics.  I had spoken about following Hedda Gabler at the Old Vic when she burns a manuscript in a stove on stage.  With an assumed wink, Owain said that we may get a bit of that when he cooked.  However, it was time to make our own stage exits, collect our headsets from Susan and have a coffee and sandwich in a nearby cafĂ©. 

Later, and back at the theatre, we were taken to our seats and Susan came round to check the headsets for live notes and the band The Craze - not Krays, something that my screenreader would not have picked up but which was “pointed out” in audio cd sent beforehand.  The Craze play in interludes and provide music cues for scene changes.  I kept the headsets on for most of the show.  I would have missed a lot of the acrobats and tricks such as the antics of the elderly waiter played by Martin Barrass.  The descriptions were played as live and though the show runs to some script a lot of judgement is necessary for the describers in when to interject and when to stay silent. 

In the show itself there are few puns or even innuendo.  Times have changed from the 1960s double meaning, smuggled lines (Round the Horne, Benny Hill  and Carry On) and though political correctness is still part of our self censorship culture, there are some interesting references.  Look out for references to Parkhurst or even Woolworths .  This genre relies on the comedian’s art of going off script in a controlled way and is a common feature of an oral tradition from Homer (Greek poet not Simpson) to the late Max (I wanna tell you a story) Bygraves.   

The programme notes comment on Venetian commedia dell’arte and its decline. It certainly had an influence in both opera seria and opera buffa.  One only has to consider the Richard Strauss opera Ariadne auf Naxos and imagine some scheduler combining the One Man Two Governors with Verdi’s Requiem.  I am sure Owain Arthur could fit the bill as Zerbinetta in the Richard Strauss canon- the other Strauss and his Fledermaus with Arthur in the role of Orlovsky would be so passĂ©. 

The extent of audience participation is a mystery.  I was sitting next to a member of the audience who offered a tsatziki sandwich to Owain.  There was some banter but the man did not return after the interval.  (Was he given the concrete overcoat during the break?) Some of my fellow audience were amazed at the scene where a member of the audience was handled on stage. (She was hidden behind the cut out of WG Grace.)

This was a very funny and entertaining show.  The music was of its time and on hearing someone behind me mention Hank Marvin, I thought of the Shadows and asked if one of the guitarists was wearing glasses.  He was. 

Covent Garden is currently “doing” Wagner’s Ring Cycle …