Laurel And Hardy, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
Friday 29 April 2005
However far back one can trace the origins of slapstick, the advent of Laurel and Hardy on the big screen, thwacking each other with wallpaper paste, mallets and ladders, has marked the genre indelibly on the modern comic psyche. Buoyed by a Depression-era hunger for humour, Laurel and Hardy became the most popular English-speaking double act in history.
Tom McGrath's oft-revived 1976 play Laurel and Hardy never loses sight of this affection and seeks to explain their enduring attraction by juxtaposing their on-screen exploits with their private lives.
On an abandoned film set, a sort of pre-Heaven waiting room for media types, the spirits of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy mount the production of their lives in a sort of celestial game of snakes and ladders, where the goal is to rest in peace.
It's relentless stuff, from the moment that the southern gent Hardy, "Only eight years old!" as his mother (Stan in a skirt) wails, runs away with the minstrels, and the Lancashire lad Laurel tries his 16-year-old hand at stand-up. The play deftly sketches their rise and fall, until Stan's heart falters and Ollie's liver starts packing in. And all this beneath Neil Murray's soaring monochrome hangar of a set, costume lights blinking like a message from God.
You either love Laurel and Hardy's fine messes or you hate them, but by the end of this production you would have to be niggardly not to feel an affection towards the director Tony Cownie's boys, who slap and stick with an almost missionary enthusiasm for their namesakes, outmanoeuvring the potential pitfalls of cutting and pasting entire routines from celluloid to stage.
The ensemble work is excellent, creating a sense of the friendship that transcended failed marriages and lost contracts. Steven McNicoll is a finger-waggling, tie-twiddling delight as Hardy, and Barnaby Power, all raised eyebrows, every step taken as if over some unseen obstacle, builds a palpable sense of the talented but frustrated Stan. And behind it all, an excellent Jon Beales on piano provides everything else from the clanking signature tune to a few cameos of his own.
But there are problems with this highly entertaining production, the last in a very successful second year for Mark Thomson, its artistic director. The pair's regrets are no more than hinted at, which is a little unsatisfying for those in the audience who aren't continually hooting with laughter at the routines.
But this elegiac, celebratory quality, this refusal to taint and tar is in some ways refreshing, particularly at time when the prevailing trend is to publicly flay our celebrities. Laurel and Hardy had their skeletons, but this generally excellent production maintains the illusion they strived to maintain. As Hardy says when his internal organs finally collapsed: "Don't tell them I'm dying. My job is to make people laugh."
To 14 May (0131-248 4848)
'At times I thought he was me'film
Review: One Direction, Fourmusic
Review: The World of Ice and Firebooks
Film More romcom than S&M
Review: The Imitation Gamefilm
Comedy...to show her mastectomy scars
TVNetflix gets cryptic
TV review A moving film showing kids too busy to enjoy their youth
Books Not even a Man Booker prize could save Richard Flanagan from a nomination
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 'Not suppost to cry': 9-year-old lists the worst things about being a boy
- 2 To help fuel their propaganda machine against the poor, our government has now decided to redefine the word 'welfare'
- 3 Anti-gay hate preacher accidentally tweets 4,000 followers cartoon clip of him 'confessing' to be a 'homosexual sodomite'
- 4 Woman opens professional cuddling shop – gets 10,000 customers in first week
- 5 Grayson Perry: London needs affordable housing because 'rich people don't create culture'
Christmas 2014: The three most intriguing celebrity panto appearances
Lee Evans announces his retirement from comedy on The Jonathan Ross Show
Iggy Azalea responds to Eminem rape lyrics: 'I'm bored of old men threatening young women'
Angelina Jolie confirms retirement from acting: 'I've never been comfortable on-screen'
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking leaked footage from Lana Del Rey rape video
Rochester by-election: Ukip gains second MP as Tory defector Mark Reckless holds seat
'Beast of Bolsover' Dennis Skinner takes Ukip MP Mark Reckless to task moments after he is sworn in
Rochester by-election: Labour MP Emily Thornberry resigns after posting white van and England flags tweet
France 'blocks' Russian sailors from boarding a warship
Revealed: How the world gets rich – from privatising British public services
Myleene Klass: Ed Miliband 'strikes back' by comparing UK's need for Labour's mansion tax to Hear'Say track