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One Man, To Guvnors as staged by the Shaw Festival should be considered an unstoppable, laugh-producing machine. Yes, it is Richard Bean’s adaptation of Carlo Goldoni’s The Servant of Two Masters and if you look hard enough you will find connections. But who cares and who has the time to look for them.
The production has a master director in Chris Abraham who can turn a simple look, and innocuous movement and a simple sentence into a guffaw, the actors know when to pause, look askance at another performer or the audience, do a pratfall or many pratfalls and produce farcical moves and manners that produce nothing but laughter.
You do need a master farceur like Peter Fernandes as the servant Francis Henshall who is fast of speech, quick of foot and able to get roars of laughter by involving members of the audience. Fernandes is not a small man, but he contorts his body, speaks asides and has a love relationship with the audience that gives him the power to make us laugh.
Get a pratfall star like Matt Alfano as Alfie who makes the audience scream with fear and laughter at his actions. Alfie is supposed to be a doddering waiter who can barely walk. He walks or falls into walls, falls down the stairs, is punched and engages in physical comedy of extraordinary proportions. Alfano is a young athlete and can do almost miraculous moves.
A bit of background. Goldoni wrote The Servant of Two Masters in 1746 within the tradition of commedia dell’arte. In that that tradition he used stock characters, convoluted plots and physical comedy. He opposed the traditional fashion where actors who specialized in certain roles improvised much of their acting. He insisted that they follow the plot.
Richard Bean’s adaptation takes place in Brighton, England in 1963 instead of Venice and he is reasonably faithful to some of the commedia dell’arte traditions but with a script that must be followed. You will not give a hoot about any of this as you roar with laughter.
Here are a few points about the plot and if you don’t remember any of them, don’t worry about it. More important are the names of the performers whom I want to [raise (praise?) Henshall was the servant of Roscoe Crabbe who is dead. Roscoe’s sister Rachel (Fiona Byrne in a suit) shows up in Brighton disguised as her twin, Roscoe, to claim a pile of dowry money from mobster Charlie Clench (the inimitable Tom Rooney). Roscoe and Clench’s daughter Pauline (Jade Repeta) were to be engaged but he was killed by Stanley (an impressive Martin Happer) who happened to be Rachel’s boyfriend. Are you still with me?
In the meantime, Pauline wants to marry dufus actor Alan Dangle (Andre Morin) the son of the crooked lawyer Harry Dangle (Patrick Galligan). Furthermore, Francis has his eye and much more on busty Dolly (hilarious Kiera Sangster) who is Clench’s bookkeeper. But He is also hungry and broke and gets the chance to work for Stanley and complications ensue. Don’t forget Allan Louis as Lloyd, a man who knows people from Brixton prison. He and Clench are former prison inmates. All of this and much more will keep you laughing for about two and a half hours.
I had to mention all the actors to compliment and praise them for their outstanding work.
Chris Abraham choreographs the whole show with meticulous attention and an unfailing feel for the laugh he can evoke from the most unlikely line, look, move, action or reaction. It is a show made for laughs and it succeeds superbly.
One Man, Two Guvnors by Richard Bean based on The Servant of Two Masters by Carlo Goldoni continues until October 13, 2024, as part of the Shaw Festival in the Festival Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario.

Peter Fernandes as Francis Henshall and Martin Happer as Stanley Stubbers. Photo by David Cooper.

July 5, 2024
Cultural - Κριτική Καλών Τεχνών

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