Owain Arthur chats to London Theatre Direct’s Andrew Tomlins about how it feels to be back in the West End production of One Man, Two Guvnors, picking on Gok Wan during the show’s recent gala performance and whether he has noticed any similarities between himself and Francis.
originally understudied James Cordon in One Man, Two Guvnors
before taking over as Francis Henshall when the production transferred to the Theatre Royal Haymarket
(when Cordon left to do the show on Broadway). He has received rave reviews for his performance.
Last year Owain left the West End production and travelled over 25,500 miles worldwide while starring in the play’s international tour. In September he returned to the production, which recently became the longest running show at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in its almost two hundred-year history, to lead a new cast which includes Angela Griffin and Kellie Shirley.
How does it feel to be back in the West End production of One Man, Two Guvnors?
I love it, I really do. I decided to return because I had such a great run last time round, although at the back of my mind I thought that it might not be the same. But in fact, in a cliché kind of way, it feels like I’ve come home! Everybody here is so lovely and there is such a buzz about being back in the West End. I love being able to walk out of the stage door and being in central London, at the heart of theatre land.
You’re working with a new cast, some of whom you’ve worked with before and some of whom you haven’t, does that bring a new vibe to the show?
It has, the new cast have freshened up the show. I think it keeps us all on our toes. Most of my stuff on stage is with Angela Griffin (Dolly), Sam Alexander (Stanley Stubbers) and Amy Cudden (Rachel Crabbe) and because all of them are new and very, very talented we keep it fresh every night and keep each other guessing.
Do you think it’s important that in long running shows you are able to make things your own?
Absolutely! You have to take your hats off to the directors for allowing that to happen, the actors have to own what they do. If you take over a role, yes there’s a blueprint from what the previous actor did that you have to follow, but we are able to put our own stamp on it and are allowed to create things ourselves. It gives you a sense of ownership over the role which leads onto confidence and also enjoyment! So, like I said, hats off to the directors because in other shows you sometimes do see carbon copies.
Recently One Man, Two Guvnors held a special gala performance to celebrate becoming the longest running show at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in its almost two hundred-year history. Why do you think the show has enjoyed such a long run?
People have such a great time when they come to see the show, so much so that I’ve had many people come up to me and say “that was the best thing I have ever seen in the theatre.” It’s slapstick and gives people such a good time. It’s so memorable for everybody and then people tell their friends to go and I think word of mouth spreads and has a huge impact. It goes without saying that One Man, Two Guvnors is a brilliantly adapted play by Richard Bean and all the elements come together – the direction, design and so on. It’s a good recipe.
What I noticed when I saw the show recently is that in the audience there were young people, old people, men and women and everybody seemed to be enjoying it equally!
I know, it’s nice for me because I can invite anyone and say “come and see this show, I know you’ll enjoy it.” It’s nice for an actor to be able to say that because sometimes you end up doing a ten hour version of Hamlet somewhere and you think “I can’t put my friends through this” [laughs]. It’s nice to allow my friends and parents to come and see it, knowing that they’re going to have a good time.
During the gala performance I believe you got Gok Wan up on stage! What happened?
To be honest with you he looked a bit like Where’s Wally! In that split second when I have to choose two people to come up I thought “should I or shouldn’t I?” but I just went for it, it’s not an opportunity that comes around very often! He was lovely! I won’t tell you what he whispered in my ear [laughs] but he went with it and added a bit of humour into it. I think he both hated and loved being up on stage... he certainly loved the show!
You recently starred in the show’s international tour. What was the whole experience like? How did it compare to doing it in London?
When you take a show around the UK different cities always react quite differently, so we were prepared for some of the jokes landing and some of them not. Surprisingly Hong Kong was brilliant; they loved it and lapped it up!
After playing Francis for so long you must have grown very close to him. Have you noticed any similarities between yourself and the role?
You have to be able to relate to every character you play. I find myself physically behaving like Francis sometimes, clowning around when I’m not supposed to. I’m definitely now more mischievous in life. We both like food and something else... – we’re both just typical blokes [laughs]! Obviously I try to separate work from life, I don’t go around wearing a three piece suit every day but the minute I put it on I instantly feel like a clown and gear myself up to do the show.
The West End production is closing next March before going on tour. Will you be saying goodbye to Francis?
Never say never! You never know when they’re going to bring something back! I think that will be it for me, I’ve had a very good time playing the part and I’m very grateful for everything. Sometimes people find themselves doing a show for years and years and end up resenting it and I don’t ever want that to happen. I want to leave the show on a high!
Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins