by Martin Brisland.
This show is genius!
A truly original and unique tale of two men that revolutionised comedy in the early 20th century.
A ‘Told By An Idiot’ production, Charlie and Stan premièred in early 2020 for the London International Mime Festival. It is written and directed by Paul Hunter, the co-founder of ‘Told By An Idiot’.
Told in the style of a silent movie with a live piano score, the show is loosely based around an actual journey Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel took from Southampton to New York in 1910. They were part of Fred Karno’s famous music hall troupe and Stan was Charlie’s understudy. They share a cabin and would go on to become two of the biggest stars of the age.
The play is effectively a silent movie on stage. A loose narrative explores 11 mini sketches across half a century, including a cameo from Laurel’s sidekick in Oliver Hardy.
Charlie and Stan opens with the live pianist entering the fantastical set and a seagull attack on Fred Karno played by Nick Haverson. He then lets rip on a killer drum solo. Charlie joins us through a suitcase and the fun has begun.
Ioana Curelea’s multi-platform set – now a sea vessel, now backstage at the theatre is very effective.
Soon we flashback to Charlie’s childhood, a Victorian melodrama of threatening bailiffs, unstable mother and drunken father. Mum is played by Sara Alexander, who also plays the piano music composed by Zoe Rahman.
Danielle Bird is superb as the enigmatic Chaplin. She handles the comedic timing to perfection. She is engaging from beginning to end without ever speaking. The trademark Chaplin odd rolling walk and the knowingly innocent expression are brought to uncanny life.
Bird says: “The silent movie era is so influential for all comedy today and has stood the test of time. Visual storytelling is universal, there’s no language barrier. “
The spills and tumbles are excellently done due to the production’s hiring of a physical comedy consultant in Jos Houben.
The play shows us different stages in both the men’s lives through flash backs and flash forwards.
It always comes back to the 1910 boat journey , where their manager and music hall impresario Fred Karno keeps a money laden eye on them and holds them to contract.
The whole concept of this show is brilliant and it is performed by this talented cast to perfection.
Jerone Marsh-Reid manages to portray Stan with endearment and innocence throughout.
Nick Haverson who plays Frank Karno also doubles up as Oliver Hardy and it is hilarious to behold the onstage transformation from one character to another.
The marvellous musical score is played live on stage as are the drums. It is stunningly performed by pianist Sara Alexander.
The play shows us just how much we communicate through facial expressions and body language – the perfect setting for the art of slapstick comedy.
Each movement is so carefully and cleverly choreographed that you understand the intention as clearly as someone telling you using words.
Praise also to Jos Houben (physical comedy consultant) and Nuna Sandy (choreography) for helping to create something special.
Charlie and Stan has many stand out, belly laugh, and just beautifully comic moments. A “slapstick off” between Charlie and Stan is a highlight.
The audience get involved for both piano playing and dancing when an extra pair of hands is needed and when Charlie Chaplin is distracted by an audience member who is then invited on stage for a swim.
There are classic Chaplin-esque moments of having your own cutlery, the Stan Laurel moments of always having a hard boiled egg in your inside pocket, the tap dancing duo and the hit someone on the head with a frying pan act.
There is a delicately haunting echo of the Charlie Chaplin penned hit song “Smile” at certain moments through the show.
Jerone Marsh-Reid is an endearing presence as Laurel, whose gangly physicality contrasts nicely with the pocket-sized Chaplin, on whom he dotes.
In a range of cameos from cigar-chewing Karno to Charlie’s raucous dad Haverson is impressive.
This fantasia on Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel is seldom less than genius.Two comedy legends who aren’t thought of together but I’m glad they were tonight.
Charlie and Stan triumphs in ensuring slapstick comedy remains as relevant and funny today as it did in the past.
It is full of non-stop fun and a little pathos. The excellent ensemble had the audience in the palms of their hands. In a 100 minute one act play they prove that slapstick never dies.
Charlie and Stan is at the MAST Mayflower Studios until Saturday 25th February. Tickets via 02380 711833 or mayflower studios.org.uk
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