Steven McNicoll

Laurel & Hardy

08/06/22

Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

The central figures of the Lyceum’s latest production are incredibly familiar. Their expressive faces and distinctive costumes are known to people who weren’t even born when they were strutting their stuff. In the opening moments of this affectionate play, Stan & Ollie wander onto a grey stage that looks like a representation of limbo, and are quick to remind us that they are now dead (something they’re not particularly happy about) and that it’s high time the public knew about the real men behind their onscreen personas.

It’s ironic then, that the late Tom McGrath’s play, first performed at Edinburgh’s Traverse Theatre in 1976, goes on to tell us very little about their actual lives. There are snippets, told rather than shown, but we see very little of the genesis of these two great comedians, the influences that shaped them as they grew up.

There’s no doubting the authenticity of the performances. Barnaby Power (Stan) and Steven McNicoll (Ollie) are revisiting roles they debuted at the Lyceum back in 2005 and claim that that have relished the opportunity to revisit Stan & Ollie now they are older themselves. They have clearly studied every tic, every mannerism, every nuance of the titular duo. Accompanied by pianist/straight man, Jon Beales, they dutifully run through some of their most iconic scenes. But perhaps it’s possible to be too comfortable in reprised roles.

Laurel and Hardy’s greatest secret was that they made it all look so easy. Considerable effort came disguised as a walk in the park, but it was in there, hiding in plain sight. The comics’ physicality was always disguised by their meticulous timing.

Tonight, something feels a little off. It’s a little too polite, too mannered. There are ripples of laughter from the audience, but not the helpless guffaws you might expect – and while the recreations of past triumphs occasionally jolt into life (a silent-movie sequence animated by the flicker of strobes is a particular highlight), they just as often play out without making enough impact, as though the two actors are simply walking through the action.

Power and McNicholl occasionally have to step out of their main roles to portray other figures from the period, but there’s little to differentiate them and, once again, I am left wanting to know more – about the things we’ve never seen onscreen. Furthermore, it’s also true to say that some of the lines, which may have passed muster in the 1970s (or, indeed, the 1940s), don’t fly too well in this day and age. “How do you keep a married man at home? Break his legs.” Hmm.

Hardline Laurel & Hardy fans will doubtless have fun with this. As an impersonation of two great comedians, it is well executed – but as an occasional fan of their work, I am left wanting to know much more about them.

Laurel & Hardy may run like clockwork – but it doesn’t say enough about what made them tick.

3 stars

Philip Caveney

Rhinoceros

25/03/18

Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

There are, I’m told, people who “don’t like” theatre. And, of course, those people are absolutely entitled to their opinion. But, oh, how I wish I could take them by the hand and guide them to the Royal Lyceum, where Edinburgh’s International Festival and Istanbul’s Dot Theatre have joined forces to create something I’m sure would change their minds.

I’ve read Eugene Ionesco’s Rhinoceros, but I’ve never seen it performed. And, in Turkish director Murat Daltaban’s hands, something magical happens in that leap from page to stage. This is inspirational theatre: at once lively, accessible, thought-provoking and funny. It’s clever, clever stuff – and, judging by the excited, enthusiastic buzz in the theatre bar, it’s crowd-pleasing as well.

Speaking of crowds, that’s pretty much what this play’s about; more specifically, to quote the Lyceum’s artistic director, David Grieg, it’s about “the fragility of the individual in a time of crowds.” Ionesco witnessed the rise of fascism in 1930s Romania, and this play – with bewildered everyman, Berenger (Robert Jack), at its core – highlights the unsettling horror he must have felt at watching his world change. And, of course, the timing of this production is no accident, with the rise of the ‘alt-right’ and the increasing polarisation of political debate.

As the play opens, all seems well. The sleepy French village comes to life like an animated postcard, all bright hues and exaggerated dimensions. Characters and relationships are quickly established, and there is humour and energy in the exchanges, even when they become heated. But the sight of a rhinoceros (or are there two?) rampaging through the town results in the first real tension, the first real rift.

As growing numbers of rhinoceroses appear, Berenger – a drifter with a drink problem – is horrified to learn that they are his friends and neighbours, that the townsfolk are literally turning into these braying beasts. As more and more of them join the herd, Berenger becomes ever more isolated, a predicament that is illustrated beautifully by the ingenious set, reminiscent of a Chinese puzzle box, shrinking his ‘safe place’ until it’s perilous and unworkable.

This is a truly glorious production, as witty and vivacious as it is prescient. There are some great comic turns, most notably from Myra McFadyen as Papillon and Steven McNicoll as Jean. It’s visually stunning, and the sensual, Middle Eastern-inflected music adds to the mood of transformation, with musician Oguz Kaplangi onstage throughout.

Seriously, grab a reluctant theatre-goer and head along to the Royal Lyceum tonight. You’ll be changing hearts and minds.

5 stars

Susan Singfield