Wilton’s Music Hall – until 4 February 2023
Reviewed by Phil Brown
If nostalgia, fantasy, and slapstick are your thing, you will love Told by an Idiot Company’s “Charlie & Stan” at Wilton’s Music Hall. Actually, If you’re just looking for an evening of innocent fun, laughter and escape from the grind and cynicism of city life, “Charlie & Stan” – part of the London International Mime Festival. – will do the job in spades.
Just being in the magnificently vintage surroundings of Wilton’s is an experience to savour. It’s surely the perfect venue for a trip back to 1910 when the SS Cairnrona set sail from Southampton bound for the US with Fred Karno’s vaudeville company aboard. Amongst the troupe of artists are Charlie Chaplin, already a music hall star in Britain and one Arthur Stanley Jefferson, known as Stan Laurel, his understudy and cabin mate.
That is the starting point for a high energy series of comic episodes including real events, flashbacks and also flash forwards. All much in the style of the silent movies with occasional directional texts projected onto the curtain that doubled as cabin privacy for Charlie and Stan. The surreal voyage has no discernible chronological thread, but is a well judged 80 minutes without an interval, packing in a lot of cleverly choreographed content and playful pratfalls. Whilst the brisk pace, timing and subtlety of mime demands and rewards close attention, the action comes so thick and fast, a second viewing is likely to reward in equal measure. As writer and director, Paul Hunter has brought to life, an original, intricate and highly accomplished entertainment.
The four main performers are on top form – the dainty Danielle Bird (a magnetic Chaplin), the athletic Jerone Marsh-Reid (a thoroughly convincing Stan Laurel), the marvellously shape-shifting Nick Haverson taking on a portfolio of roles (Karno, Chaplin’s father, Oliver Hardy, butler, drummer) and, last but not least, the versatile Sara Alexander on excellent live piano and doubling up as Chaplin’s mum. Essential to the performance was the superbly crafted “silent film” soundtrack by Zoe Rahman and the extraordinary multiplatform stage set, very evocative of a chaotic 1910 passenger ship, by Ioana Curelea.
There were so many, individual episodes are difficult now to recall. So, not being a fan of audience participation moments, it’s a source of frustration that the couple in this show linger in fine detail. For me, the most memorable scene involved Laurel (Jerone Marsh-Reid) with Havering’s brilliant Oliver Hardy playing golf with the threat of a real golf ball being driven the length of the hall.
Overall, “Charlie & Stan” showcases a quite awe inspiring array of performing industry talent in an imaginative, unique and timeless show. The Wilton’s crowd gave it a well deserved standing ovation.