One Man, Two Guvnors – An interview with Writer, Richard Bean “Francis, the central character, is me…a lovable idiot!”
Award-winning playwright, Richard Bean talks about his most famous play, One Man, Two Guvnors, including his inspiration behind the masterpiece and what he's looking forward to about the Derby Theatre production.
What was your inspiration/motivation for writing One Man, Two Guvnors?
I'd worked closely with Nick Hytner at the National Theatre on a version of London Assurance for Simon Russell Beale to star in and it turned out to be very successful, packing out the Olivier every night, which was annoying because I hadn't really been paid. Nick had wanted to call my work "textual revisions". So, when James Corden said he'd do Truffaldino in Goldoni's Servant of Two Masters, Nick, presumably consumed with guilt, offered me the gig. I said: “I'm not doing ‘textual revisions’, I'm rewriting the whole play…and he said: "go for it".
Did you ever imagine that it would become so successful?
Working at the National Theatre is a bit like playing for England…you're surrounded by the best - directors, actors, technical team, composer etc. - so you do start to hope that you can take on the world.
What do you think is the secret of its success?
The characters are sufficiently differentiated. Each one is pretentious and funny in their own way. And Frances is everyman, he's us, on stage, and although he's stupid, he's not evil, and we root for him.
Would you say that One Man, Two Guvnors is a play for a broad audience to enjoy?
Certainly! Melvyn Bragg is a big fan of the play, and interviewed me in New York when it went to Broadway, and you can't get much more high brow than our Melv. And, not necessarily at the other end of the intellectual scale, but one night Jack Wilshere, at the time an Arsenal player, tweeted that he loved it. I remember Nick Hytner being thrilled by that tweet.
What was your intended audience for the play?
What do you enjoy about the genre ‘farce’, is it your favourite genre?
Farce is very difficult to write, and requires a lot of management in the rehearsal room and in production. The intention of a comedy is to make the audience laugh, the intention of a farce is at two or three points in the production to render them hysterical…that's a tough ask.
Do you personally relate to/identify with the main character, Francis at all?
I do. He's me…a lovable idiot.
Do you enjoy seeing different productions/versions of One Man, Two Guvnors?
To be honest, I will only go and see English language productions. I am often sent translations of the play to ask me if I approve of them, and I always say "this is the best Serbian translation of the play I've ever read". Of course, I don't read Serbian, so how would I know?!
You are from Hull – were you aware that Director, Sarah Brigham is also from Hull?
I was aware that she is from Hull, but no-one has specified if she's black and white or red and white. (both rugby teams from Hull - Hull Kingston Rovers and Hull FC!).
What led to your decisions to add the character ‘Alfie’ into the script?
We workshopped the first two acts of the play, reading it around a table, and we felt the dinner scene needed a bit more oomph. It was a brilliant discussion, and a moment in my development as a playwright, that I realised that there are no rules, one can actually do what the hell you like…and from that workshop, came Alfie.
Can you describe One Man, Two Guvnors in three words?
Three hours short!
What are you looking forward to about the Derby Theatre (and Queens Theatre Hornchurch) production of One Man, Two Guvnors?
I'd like to see the cast and the audience as one.
One Man, Two Guvnors runs at Derby Theatre from Saturday 7 - Saturday 28 September.