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November 8, 2019

Staging a Sell-Out Show in Your Local Theatre


Hailed as “a triumph of visual and verbal comedy” (The Guardian), Richard Bean’s One Man, Two Guvnors makes an entertaining addition to any theatre programme. Christine Richardson and Barbara Lloyd of Market Harborough Drama Society share their experiences of staging the award-winning comedy in their local theatre and offer their advice for other amateur groups interested in doing the same.

One Man, Two Guvnors is based on the classic Italian comedy, The Servant of Two Masters by Carlo Goldoni, and this English version by Richard Bean is a hilarious tale which centres around the shambolic Francis Henshall and his criminal acquaintances.

Why did we consider staging the play?  Because it is a great play. Our Drama Committee did in fact assess and score the play the previous year, but thought it too challenging to stage due to set requirements (five different settings) and the complexity of the plot given our small stage and lack of wing space.  However, it scored very highly so in the following year they decided we should try it as we had a Director with the vision to take it forward and simplify the staging.  We opted for a four door set which could open both ways and could be either a functional door or an open wing, allowing for flexibility.  We also employed back projection of stylised hand-drawn back drops which were projected onto the back wall in order to create scene changes with a small number of additional props and furniture.  We are lucky in that we have some very artistic set designers.

For sound, we opted for a live musician who played curtain music and scene changes.  We didn’t use the curtains for scene changes, but the audience were entertained by our busker with his Beatle songs and the stage crew changing the set in dimmed lighting. This made our sound team redundant, so they became the hummus sandwich man and Francis’s unfortunate (off-stage) daughter.

A sound piece of advice we would offer is to leave expectation based on West End Show behind and find your own way.  As it is basically a farce, so it’s all down to the cast and staging which best works for your stage. Just remember to KISS – Keep It Simple, Stupid – and always remember your backstage crew is as important as your on-stage cast.

Photo from Market Harborough Drama Society’s production of One Man, Two Guvnors.

Photo from Market Harborough Drama Society’s production of One Man, Two Guvnors.

Almost every character breaks the fourth wall.  As we don’t do that very often and it is important that strong characterisations and realistic relationships are established early on.  Also, for a director you are aiming to make something look chaotic whilst actually being technically very precise and rehearsed.  Never underestimate the amount off rehearsal needed. The physical theatre element was particularly enjoyable, but it must be given adequate time to choreograph, polish and perfect.  When it comes together you can feel the cast bonding and for this play tight teamwork is a necessity.

In regard to casting, Francis was easily cast, but we were short of men overall therefore Harry Dangle became Harriet Dangle and Gareth, the head waiter, became Gloria.  This did not detract from the play and was positively received by the GODA (Guild of Drama Adjudicators) adjudicator. Costumes are particularly important as the audience has a concept of what the 60’s look like.  You need beehives, stilettos and lashes (and that’s just the men!) Our wardrobe department did an amazing job of kitting everybody out in costumes of the era.

We all thoroughly enjoyed the process, from auditions to the last night, and we sold out every performance, even the Saturday matinee.  A great start to our 2018-2019 season and to quote from our local paper who reviewed the play – “This humdinger of a season-opener was THE funniest thing I have ever seen on the Harborough stage.”

Christine Richardson, Director and Barbara Lloyd, Drama Officer

Learn more about performing Richard Bean’s
One Man, Two Guvnors.