The hit London comedy One Man, Two Guvnors is entering its final stretch at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, its giddy commedia dell’arte-inspired zing intact. For that, credit a cast made up jointly of old-timers and newcomers, the latter including a bravura comic turn from 24-year-old Dominic Thorburn as Alan Dangle, the self-appointed actor extraordinaire of the piece. Broadway.com recently caught up with the gifted West End newbie to talk take-overs and, um, posing nude.
Richard Bean’s comedy has become a London mainstay. Were you aware of the show before you became a part of it?
I’d seen the original production, just as a regular member of the audience because it was the show to go to, so I experienced its very peak. What was interesting to me is that it’s very traditional in its old-school style of British comedy, with all the pratfalls and slapstick and innuendo, and at the same time it feels completely contemporary. It’s such an infectious piece of work.
So, what was it like to take over as Alan, who must be one of the most wonderfully preening actors ever conceived for the stage?
I had friends who took over in the second cast so I was invited to see the play again; I ended up seeing it three times, each time with a different cast. By the time I joined it, I was aware of the show’s DNA and its history and I knew how easy it would be to do a bad impression of what I had seen. That’s when I realized the importance of taking what was there and putting my own stamp on it.
You and your predecessor in the role, Daniel Ings, worked together in Manchester last summer in Kenneth Branagh’s Macbeth.
Yeah, that was cool. He had done a 12-month contract [as Alan], so he had a wealth of experience in the part, and it was very interesting to work with him on something that couldn’t have been more of a polar opposite to our show. When I auditioned for Alan, I had this enormous four-month beard [from Macbeth], so it was about encouraging the people considering me to see the struggling artist beneath the hair. Luckily, they were enormously flexible.
What was the most obvious challenge of entering the farcical world of One Man, Two Guvnors?
Just to be in something that has this level of actual play in it was an outrageous privilege. Until this job, I had mostly been doing classical, heavyweight texts since leaving drama school [in 2010]. It felt like a real test of my comic ability.
Everything about Alan is lovably exaggerated, from his swagger to his way of turning his body toward the audience in the most grandiose way.
Yes, as a character Alan quickly reaches levels of the absurd [laughs]. At the same time, you have to find a way of making it ring true and not just outlandishly and wildly large, so I try to come at it from a point of extreme earnestness. The thing about Alan is that he reacts extremely to people who offend his poetic soul. If, for instance, someone mocks the concept of love, then he becomes a storm and everyone around him gets wet!
A human tempest, then?
Yes [laughs]. You have to find in Alan this forgivable naivete, but also a lovely energy. And you shouldn’t just laugh at him, you should care about him, too.
You’re wonderfully natural in a part that, in the wrong hands, can look forced. Do you have acting in your bloodstream?
I do actually come from a family of creatives: My dad is a drama teacher, and my mom’s an artist, so I guess it’s in the blood cells. I feel as if I know the world in which Alan moves, since I’ve been marinated in that level of intensity.
I first saw you in director Ed Hall’s all-male Propeller company, performing Henry V and The Winter’s Tale in repertory. What was that like?
Insane! There we were 12 or 14 guys touring the world in Shakespeare, and I was the youngest. We were a very, very cohesive group to the extent that we trained with the British military for five weeks. So, there we were, piggy-backing one another around Clapham Common [in south London], watched over by Ed, who was there with a newly born child in one hand, a phone in the other and directing us at the same time!
You also appeared in a revival of Our Country’s Good, during which you posed nude for Gay Times magazine in the UK. How did that come about?
Simple: [director] Max Stafford-Clark dared me, and I called his bluff [laughs]. I thought, “Yeah, let’s take it on and see how we go!” The whole thing was absolutely hilarious, fantastic—and it was for charity, which felt right, as well.
Were you worried about what your family might think?
I’ve been trying to shock them since I was five, so I think at this point they’re kind of bulletproof!