Royal and Derngate, Northampton – until 21 March 2020
Reviewed by Megan Raynor
‘Told by an idiot’ present The Strange Tale of Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel, the tale of the legendary figures of comedy on their voyage overseas from the UK to The Big Apple. True is the fact that these two men did venture across the sea in 1910, as part of Fred Karno’s music hall troupe, but this company as described by director Paul Hunter values ‘fiction over fact’ – an experimental but silent recipe of two comedy icons, a boat and bucket load of play.
Fleeting moments of Chaplin (Amalia Vitale) and Laurel’s (Jerone Marsh-Reid) past and future are woven into the piece in short sketches. We meet Charlie’s vibrant but deeply suffering mother Hannah (Sara Alexander) and are shot a glimpse of her and Charlie’s doting but complex relationship, concreted by their shared joy for music. Ollie is not forgotten about, with a pillow up the shirt and a small black square of tash stuck under his nose, Nick Haverson’s transition into embodiment of Hardy was effortlessly accurate and heart-warming. These interjections of past and future make for an incoherent structure, which at times was confusing to follow particularly with the very limited spoken words, but added to the company’s sense of false reality. Each sequence is to be appreciated as a separate entity.
Amalia Vitale’s Chaplin was exquisite; the vibrancy of her facial expressions, her subdued but charming addresses to the audience and the absolute lightness and precision she brought to the choreography made her a pleasure to watch. Sara Alexander likewise brought complete precision to her piano underscore (composed by Zara Rahman), a complex score synchronised effortlessly to the complex choreography – nothing less than slick. (I can also confirm that Alexander was scoring completely without sheet music after I made my Royal and Derngate debut as piano player #2)
Ioana Curelea’s multi-platform and multi-faceted staging provided the perfect playground to the farce. Sliding down the fireman’s pole, swinging in the wooden cabin beds, tumbling over the wooden decks; it was a piece almost always in motion, allowing the chosen moments of stillness to carry greater poignancy.
The Strange Tale of Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel is a charming escape, a step back in time to an era of comedy that values playfulness above all else.