There are few names more well known in classic comedy than Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel. But what is perhaps less well known is that in 1910 the two shared a cabin aboard a steamer from Liverpool to New York whilst part of Fred Karno’s music hall troupe.
In this joyful and frequently poignant show produced by Told by an Idiot – the cast tell the
story of two show business legends out to sea.
Accompanied by an original score played live by a very talented pianist, the show plays out much like a silent film, with tropes and expectations of the genre used to great comedic effect.
The two leads played the roles of Charlie and Stan with the silliness and reverence that such status would expect and the physicality of their performance was nothing short of astounding. As one observer said of Danielle Bird – ‘She became Charlie Chaplin’. Likewise, the supporting cast who were at once musicians, dancers, stage hands and multiple roles, allowed for the production to run seamlessly. In one moment that will stick with me, the audience observed as Nick Haverson transformed from the alcoholic father of Charlie Chaplin to Oliver Hardy using only the props around him, posture and acting. Emphasising, like the rest of the cast, that portraying a character is so much more about acting skill and costume, than it is about looking like the person.
Having seen a few productions in this post-covid world, I was especially impressed with the finesse and comedy with which the cast navigated audience participation and breaking the fourth wall whilst still maintaining social distance, distributing masks and slathering hand sanitiser on the unsuspecting victim who was brought on stage to play the piano.
In an age of a lot of ‘in your face’ theatre, it was wonderful to attend a production that made you connect and empathise with those on the stage with barely a word spoken. It was a wonderful homage to the comedy of old produced by and for an extremely modern world.
Review by Hannah Johnson