Charlie and Stan

17/09/21

The Lowry, Salford Quays

Told by an Idiot’s Charlie and Stan is a charmingly whimsical piece, a musing on what might have happened when Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel first met – as cabin-mates on a steamer bound for New York, both members of Fred Karno’s music hall troupe. Fittingly, it’s a largely silent piece of theatre, reliant on mime, music and physical comedy.

The performances are as peppy as you’d expect from Told by an Idiot, and it’s a fascinating premise. There is lots of potential for silly jokes and tomfoolery, which writer/director Paul Hunter enables his ensemble cast to utilise to full advantage. The choreography (by Nuna Sandy) is sharp, and the movement (courtesy of Jos Houben) is precise, as it needs to be in a piece like this. Danielle Bird’s Chaplin is glorious, all verve and spirit, while Jerone Marsh-Reid’s Laurel personifies sweetness and likability. The piano and drum accompaniment (Sara Alexander and Nick Haverson) works well too, and I like how it’s incorporated into the action.

I am also impressed by Ioana Curelea’s set: the wonky ship’s interior and hanging bunk beds contribute to the sense of impermanence and making do.

There’s so much to admire here, and yet – for me – it doesn’t quite come off. I think it’s to do with the tech. I need lighting that directs my eye; some of the physical jokes don’t land because I don’t know where I’m supposed to be looking, and simple sound effects to underscore some of the more obscure punchlines would also be helpful. Without these guides, I sometimes feel overwhelmed by the business of the stage, and I miss a lot in the mayhem.

I’m also unconvinced by the flashback and flash forward sequences. The former – depicting Chaplin’s troubled childhood – seems tonally wrong. It’s a weighty topic, but it’s depicted in exactly the same way as the rest of the piece; I feel it needs to be markedly different. The latter just seems grafted on: Haverson’s portrayal of Oliver Hardy is uncannily accurate, but the scene doesn’t fit with the rest of the story.

So, for me, this is a bit of a mixed bag. A nice idea, a pleasant way to spend an evening, and some undeniably strong performances but, in the end, a little disappointing.

3.4 stars

Susan SIngfield

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