What’s the secret of comedy?
Yes, but what else do you need for a play to be funny. A witty script – maybe with some running gags. Visual gags to complement the verbal ones; possibly a bit of intentional confusion caused by misunderstandings and/or mistaken identity – particularly when the audience are in on the joke and the characters aren’t; and slapstick, done well, will always amuse an audience.
Well, Thornden School’s production of “One Man, Two Guvnors” at Thornden Hall last Friday and Saturday certainly ticked all of the above boxes.
The plot centres on Francis Henshall (played by Maddie Matthews) who has jobs with two men and spends most of his time trying to make sure each employer doesn’t find out about the other. Any remaining time is spent looking for food. The twist at the end is that the two employers already know each other (I’m being careful not to give too many spoilers here), while a love interest provides further comedic options in the subplot. All in all, the play has the ingredients of a classic British farce.
It’s not an easy play to perform. The delivery of lines is fast-paced; the action requires split-second timing; some of the stunts need a near-acrobatic agility; and at times participation is elicited from unsuspecting members of the audience (or maybe the unsuspecting member of the audience have to hide the fact that they are “plants” – who knows?).
Despite these difficulties, the young cast gave sterling performances and brought out the best from both the script and the stage directions.
Can you get laughs from attempting to move a trunk? Yes you can.
How much confusion can be caused by sorting a few items of mail? Quite a lot (just eat the ones you can’t carry).
Is buying a knife from Woolworths funny? Four times yes.
Henshall spends a lot of time alone on the stage, delivering monologues and/or fourth-wall breaking chats with the audience (and one very clever dialogue and fight with … er … himself). The role was well played, with a character that filled the stage and had the audience in stitches with both verbal and physical comedy routines. His two employers – one local gangster and one gentleman criminal – were convincingly played and all the sub characters – such as the aged and infirm waiter, the ham actor Alan Dangle, and Pauline Clench who understood very little – contributed to the overall success of the production.
Of course, being at a school, you would expect some educational content. I spotted both literacy (alliteration around the letter D), and numeracy (the division of twelve chicken balls) – so OFSTED would be pleased. And there is no excuse for the audience not now knowing the difference between monozygotic and dizygotic twins – the culmination of the longest recurring gag in the play.
The stage was large and open, and some scene changes were complex and time-consuming. However, the entertainment continued as the technical crew accidentally-on-purpose tripped, fell into dustbins, and were hit by props being moved on and off stage.
All in all I thoroughly enjoyed my evening; a very funny play expertly executed. But I did make a mental note not to buy tickets in the front rows of a Thornden School performance – just in case …
Editor’s note: Once we receive stage images from Thorden School, we’ll add them to this post.
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