One Man Two Guvnors: A review and interview with Grant Olding

A series of unstoppable laughs is all I heard from the Lyttelton Theatre when watching the production One Man Two Guvnors. Taken from Carlo Goldoni 1746 classic comedy A Servant of Two Masters, Richard Bean has turned this production into one of the biggest comedy the National has seen.  Set in 1963, Brighton, this production is centred on Francis Henshall (played by James Corden) a hungry man surviving on little money. The turning point of this play is when Francis Henshall finds himself working for two guvnors, one of which is Rachel Crabbe (played by Jemima Rooper) who has disguised herself as her dead twin brother who was head of a gang. The other is snooty toff Stanley Stubbers played by Oliver Chris who has not only killed Rachel’s brother but is Rachel’s secret lover too. Neither guvnor is aware that the other is in Brighton. A scene which the audience particularly enjoyed was the dining scene in which Francis had to serve dinner to both guvnors simultaneously.

There are two parts to the dining scene which, joined together, made this scene one of the best in the play. The use of an audience member who is constantly collecting food for Francis in a tray so that he can eat it later and the use of a very old waiter played to perfection by Tom Edden who is always bringing the soup from the kitchen. The use of physicality and brilliant dialogue in these parts makes this play one of the best comedy plays at the National Theatre.

The music from One Man Two Guvnors brings the play together and reinforces the mood that is created from the dialogue. The music by Grant Olding not only put emphasis on the dialogue and the mood but showed us different sides to the actors. The Craze Band showed great passion towards skiffle music and this passion was depicted greatly in their performances during set changes and the interval. For most of the audiences including myself skiffle music was a new experience and particularly enjoyable.

I got the chance to ask Grant Olding, who wrote the songs in One Man Two Guvnors, some questions. This is what he had to say;

How did your band form?

I had the task of forming the band. One of the privileges of being the composer and musical director of One Man Two Guvnors was being able to choose which musicians I wanted to work with. I had worked with all the members of The Craze before, they had all played in the pits of musicals that I wrote or scored the plays of and it was an easy task to put The Craze together as we all already knew each other pretty well.

Could you tell our readers more about the term “Skiffle”?

Skiffle is a form of music which peaked at the end of the fifties and was virtually killed off by the musical revolution that groups like The Beatles brought about. British Skiffle took American roots, folk and country music (by popular by the likes of Leadbelly and Woody Guthrie) and played them on instruments such as acoustic guitars, washboard and tea chest bass. Later artists like Lonnie Donegan developed the form to be a kind of variety/skiffle hybrid with songs such as “Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavour on the Bedpost Overnight” and “My Old Man’s a Dustman”. But the original skiffle songs were rough and ready. Not a great deal of skill was required to play Skiffle. Not even proper instruments were required. But an attitude was necessary. Skiffle was the punk music of the 50’s.

How do you feel about working with James Corden?

I love working with James Corden. He’s very musical indeed and an incredibly hard worker. He’s respectful of the text and generous to other performers and he loves playing the xylophone.

What were your main inspirations behind the songs?

I just listened to a lot of songs from the era skiffle-wise, that was mainly Lonnie Donegan but also bands like the Vipers and Chas Mcdevitt. The beat group stuff was influenced by early Beatles and Kinks songs. I wrote the songs in the rehearsal room whilst the main rehearsals were going on and I based them upon themes that are found within the play.

What do you feel was the difference in the music that you have created for One Man Two Guvnors and other productions such as Simply Cinderella?

There’s no difference really. In both musicals that I’ve written and plays that I have scored you’re trying to fulfil a brief. It’s just that in a musical I tend to have more say over where the music goes and what that music is. I have to say though on One Man Two Guvnors, Nicholas Hytner gave me total freedom to write whatever songs I wanted. Ultimately though I am trying to deliver songs that I think will fit his production so understanding what he wants to see onstage is the key.

Could you describe a moment that was the most difficult during the rehearsals of One Man Two Guvnors?

Hmmmm, this is a difficult question. We did a rehearsal in front of 100 sixth-form students. That was quite tough as it was only our second ever run-through of the play, so it was a bit scary. They loved it though which gave us a lot of confidence.

Could you describe a moment that you most enjoyed during the rehearsals of One Man Two Guvnors?

I loved our second band call. The first one was quite difficult as the band were all playing the songs for the first time and the sound system wasn’t the greatest and I was trying to remember all the words and keep an ear on what the other band members were doing, trying to correct and direct them… there was lots to think about. The second rehearsal though went brilliantly and I remember thinking the band was going to be great fun.

What are the future plans for The Craze Band?

Well we’re with the show for the foreseeable future after that who knows? Rehab?

Laughter, action and skiffle are the three things that created a great atmosphere throughout the production. From the atmosphere the production became a stress releaser. All in all a must-watch production.

 By Faizah Din


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