Wednesday, December 7

Laurel & Hardy – Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh

Knowledge of our two protagonists – for those of us who had a TV back in the late 60’s/early 70’s – extended to a pair of bumbling incompetents consistently at odds with even the most mundane of situations. Funny, comic, slapstick, every grade of mirth was covered, be it driving a car or attempting some interior decoration, the wince-inducing violence happily hilarious and incidental. In our lofty 9-year-old estimation Tom & Jerry cartoons (the proper ones!) owed a huge debt to Stan and Ollie. But this production delved behind the Saturday morning entertainment, an insight into the lives of Oliver Norvell Hardy and Arthur Stanley Jefferson, successes in their own right prior to becoming the duo the globe knows so well.

The austere, bleached (even the pies were bluey-grey) concrete bunker set (Neil Murray) amplified the reflective, dreamy nature of this Tom McGrath play, first produced in 1976, most famously reprised in 2005 by actors Steven McNicoll (Hardy) and Barnaby Power (Laurel) and re-reprised now – with the same actors – in 2022.

This wasn’t laugh-out-loud, rhythmically punctuated with punchlines fare (despite a smattering of slapstick), more a tale of the melancholic pratfalls that beset their private and business lives. The two shared several failed marriages and relationships in their pursuit of their craft and ironically it was the business one with producer Hal Roach that they felt most adversely affected their later output. It’s a staggering statistic that they produced 106 films between 1921 and 1951 but had they had more creative control it’s implied they would have opted for quality over quantity.

Both actors inhabited their characters perfectly, having honed their portrayals over the years and the pianist/percussionist (Jon Beales) performed his silent tasks to great effect. All three wore painted white faces, an element of the pierrot being hinted at; at points they took on the characters of producers Joe Rock and Hal Roach in order to tell the story as the conflict between the worlds of commerce and creativity were laid bare. Despite the cool, dry nature of the tale this play told, a warm glow emanated from the central friendship between Stan and Ollie and back in the day that’s what us 9-year-olds would have wanted most.

Playing until 25th June,

Reviewer: Roger Jacobs

Reviewed: 8th June 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★