by Richard Bean based on The Servant of Two Masters by Carlo Goldoni

directed by Clive Stack

Blackburn Drama Club


This romp sits firmly in the tradition of Commedia dell’Arte and provides the Blackburn audience with one of the funniest nights of theatre.


Commedia dell’Arte began in Italy in the early 16th Century and quickly spread throughout Europe, creating a lasting influence on Shakespeare, Molière, opera, vaudeville, contemporary musical theatre, sit-coms, and improv comedy. The legacy of Commedia includes many of the themes and storylines still enjoyed by audiences today.


The style of Commedia is characterised by its use of masks, improvisation, physical comedy, and recognizable character types. According to the Maestro Antonio Fava, the famous character types can be divided into four main categories: (1) The Servants (2) The Old Men (3) The young Lovers and (4) The boasting Captains and their female equivalent


Richard Bean’s adaptation of Goldoni’s play incorporates all these elements and [provided the Blackburn Drama Club’s audience with one of the best plays of this genre I have seen for a very long time.  I had tears of laughter streaming down my face by the end of the first act.


In this cast we witnessed some of the most physical mad-cap mayhem that one wondered how the pace could be kept without someone experiencing some bruised joints along the way.


With this well drilled cast Clive Stack, the director, has created an absolute masterpiece that would stand alongside the very best in physical theatre.


In 1963 Brighton, out-of-work skiffle player, Francis Henshall, becomes separately employed by two men – Roscoe Crabbe, a gangster, and Stanley Stubbers, an upper-class twit. Francis tries to keep the two from meeting, in order to avoid each of them learning that Francis is also working for someone else. To complicate events, Roscoe is really Rachel Crabbe in disguise, her twin brother Roscoe having been killed by her boyfriend, who is none other than Stanley. Complicating events still further is local mobster, Charlie the Duck, who has arranged his daughter Pauline's engagement to Roscoe, despite her preference for over-the-top amateur actor Alan Dangle. Even further complications are prompted by several letters, a very heavy trunk, several unlucky audience volunteers, an extremely elderly waiter and Francis's pursuit of his twin passions: Dolly (Charlie's feminist bookkeeper), and food.


As it is set in the early 60s, the music used in the production incorporated many top hits of that era, and all were well delivered by the various cast members.


Fired from his skiffle band, down on his luck and permanently hungry, Francis Henshall (Stephen Claxon) suddenly finds himself employed by two bosses. His first guvnor is Roscoe Crabbe (his persona assumed by Rachel Crabbe) , a small-time London gangster who has, apparently, come to Brighton to claim £6000 owed to him by his fiancee's father, Charlie Clench (Martin Cottam).


However, it soon becomes clear that Roscoe is, in fact, his twin sister, Rachel Crabbe (Jackie Green), in disguise. We had a superb performance from Jackie in the trouser role. Roscoe was killed by Rachel's boyfriend, Stanley Stubbers (Dominic Dwyer), and she wants the money to flee the country with Stanley.  Dominic’s performance was well observed and was the perfect foil for the others around him


Holed up at The Cricketers’ Arms, the permanently ravenous Frances spots the chance of an extra meal ticket and takes a second job with Stanley Stubbins, who is hiding from the police and waiting to be reunited with Rachel. To prevent discovery and earn money from both guvnors, Francis must keep Rachel and Stanley apart.


It is not surprising that Francis's world plunges into one of mayhem and confusion, as he struggles to serve the needs of both guvnors. It proves to be a painful rollercoaster ride for him.


To aid him in his quest, Francis enlists help from the audience and frequently brings unsuspecting audience members up on to the stage to do his job for him.


Meanwhile, Roscoe's fiancée and Charlie's daughter, risking her own future happiness with wannabe thespian, Alan Dangle (Robert Walsh), Pauline Clench (Gemma Nightingale), must keep Rachel's disguise a secret.


The play opens as we come to the end of a party to celebrate the engagement of Pauline to Alan Dangle when Pauline’s father, Charlie ”the Duck” Clench (Martin Cottam), is asked to give a speech.  “I’ve only ever spoken three times, formally in public, in my life and each time I’ve been banged up by the judge straight afterwards!”


This quick-fire humour is peppered throughout the play with gag upon gag piling on top of each other.  Alan is an actor manqué and almost his every utterance is in one style or another complete with mannequin poses.  A superb performance from Robert Walsh.  Gemma Nightingale was the ideal fiancée and one who seemed almost oblivious to the unfolding mayhem.


Claire St. Pierre , as Dolly, was a man-chaser – any man!  Her saucy one-liners and knowing looks were beautifully timed and her performance certainly added to the fun.


Appearing in and out of the action Stephen Catterall, as Alfie, must have been black and blue by now. Playing various incidental characters throughout the play, his was a very physical performance which was pure knockabout comedy, very well executed and very, very funny.


Gary Waugh, as Lloyd, played other roles to portray many different incidental characters.  His performance as a chef was hilarious.


Supporting roles were Harry Dangle, Alan’s father, played by Andrew Smith; Gareth - Simon Hall, and Ben Ashworth playing variously a taxi driver, a barman and a policeman – with a nod to Dixon of Dock Green.  Other walk on roles were played by Simon Hall, Barbara Chadwick and Graham Howarth.


The whole play revolves around Francis Henshall (Stephen Claxton) as the servant.  And what a superb performance this was.  His speed of delivery, timing, rapport with the audience and coupled with superb physicality, made this a performance par excellence.


The director had worked wonders with this cast which worked together as a team, and the amount of rehearsal that must have gone into preparing this play for presentation is to be complimented.


A delightful touch was the dancers who came on stage to perform various short routines while the scene and costume changes were undertaken.  The routines were at the same pace as the play and extremely well-choreographed and performed,


All the music was of the late 50s early 60s, with many in the audience able to sing along, and where there were particular vocal arrangements, the cast members sang along too.


No production can be presented without the technical team behind the scenes being equal to the task unfolding on stage.  Stage Manager, Alison Smith, and the props team of Alison, Siobhán Edge, Ceire Edge and Rebecca Moran, must have worked their socks off in getting this production up and running.  The costumes were superb, and Ann Garlick, Siobhán Edge and Rebecca Moran are to be congratulated on creating the right period.


One Man Two Guvnors was an ensemble piece with everyone on stage giving their all.


Blackburn Drama Club should be very proud of this production.  It is one I shall remember, for all the right reasons, for a very long time.


Thank you for your very warm hospitality.