Review: Charlie & Stan (Touring)

Tuesday 14th February 2023 at York Theatre Royal.


Charlie & Stan hoiks us back in time in style and substance to witness two giants of comedy meeting as youngsters. Set round and about a trip from Southampton to New York circa 1910, we see a very young Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel. As yet unknowns, as yet uncelebrated, as yet just burgeoning members of a music hall troupe…

The winning style of Told by an Idiot’s show (written and directed by Paul Hunter and based on an idea by Irene Cotton) comes from the quirky, nostalgic blend of live piano score, captions on red cloth (Video Designer: Dom Baker) and very little in the way of spoken words – in this case, none in dialogue, just a couple of well-placed caterwauled drunken ditties. So we’re essentially seeing a silent movie impressively performed live – and a very well cast and scored silent movie it is, featuring some excellent talent from a charming cast.

Danielle Bird and Jerone Marsh-Reid are a delightful pairing as Chaplin and Laurel: energetic and skilful with their physicality and underscoring their best gags with their very expressive faces.

Bird’s Chaplin is a coiled spring of energy whose movement shifts between classic slapstick and an impression of fluidity approaching dance. This Chaplin never takes a conventional step if he can provide comic hesitation in his feet or a stagey double step instead – and Bird’s rapport with the audience is top notch, too.

Marsh-Reid’s Stan is just as expressive and just as agile, making a perfect counterpart: the large to the little, the fool to the clown and so on. Physical comedy consultant Jos Houben must surely have driven some of the visual spectacle playing on this physical dynamic – where Laurel goes over, Chaplin goes under; where Laurel stays towering on the ground, Chaplin goes airborne; where Laurel can’t fit, Chaplin will try!

Sara Alexander and Nick Haverson take a comic turn or two as Chaplin’s long suffering mother and father – and in the case of Haverson, also a brilliant turn as the butler and a cracking fleeting turn as Oliver Hardy. The pair also provide our musical accompaniment, with Haverson proving very comically capable with a drum kit and Alexander taking her turn to shine at the piano.

Composer Zoe Rahman really brings the ebbs and flows of farce to life here and Alexander defies expectations of a musician placed on the periphery of the stage by inhabiting a wonderfully theatrical character. Dramatically taking to the keys like a true eccentric, cardy flicked behind her with great pomp and all, her hands fly over the keys to provide everything from lengthy underscoring to perfectly timed sound effects.

For some in the audience, this was certainly laugh a minute; for me it was more charming and amusing – admittedly, the sense of hilarity might land better for more knowledgeable fans of the originals to whom tribute is paid here, but there’s much to enjoy in the artful physicality and this clever display of wordless storytelling from Told by an Idiot.

Charlie & Stan is at York Theatre Royal until February 18th 2023 – you can find more information and tickets here.

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