Laurel and Hardy! I have been a fan of the famous duo since a very young age, and when I heard their familiar introductory music right at the start of this performance, I felt my face break into an anticipatory smile. Both Stan Laurel (Tony Carpenter) and 'Babe' Hardy (Philip Hutchinson) look just the parts, with their trademark outfits completed by the obligatory bowler hats.
The play took us through a potted history of their meteoric rise to fame, and out the other side until their deaths. Carpenter and Hutchinson use a variety of structures to entertain, including song-and-dance routines and old film footage. Highlights include a series of black-and-white re-enactments of some very famous scenes, which captured their audience fully. Any avid fan will remember the famous piano-moving sketch in The Music Box, and they also made a great job of re-creating some well known dance sequences. I loved their faultless version of Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia – so accurate that it was like watching the original pair in action.
Carpenter beautifully captured the facial mannerisms of Stan Laurel, with the toothless upturned smile and slightly-nodding head feeling so familiar. Hutchinson, meanwhile, ably encompassed the blundering and patronising stupidity associated with Hardy. All the different comedy techniques I remembered as a child were there: the pie throwing, tie flapping, crying and head scratching were all truly reminiscent of the two greats.
More than that, the actors' portrayal clearly conveys the devoted friendship that existed between the two comedians. They had a string of marriages between them and only found true love in later life – Laurel was 56 and almost penniless. They supported each other, and together survived a number of episodes where their personal lives were tinged with loss, sadness and death. I was curious to know more.
So, much as I enjoyed the performance, I felt that the piece was a victim of the actors' own dedication to detail. I would gladly have sacrificed the factual catalogue of the two men's film history, to have learnt more about their marriages, and how both of them lost brothers to freak accidents. There were brief references to those deaths, one by drowning and one in a dentist's chair. But the poignancy of Hardy losing his brother at a young age was seemingly at the root of his over-eating, and blighted him for the rest of his life. Hutchinson movingly recorded how hard it was to be “famous all over the world for the one thing you dislike the most about yourself.”
For all that I'd have liked to see a little more, throughout this excellent re-capturing of the legendary double act, I was left without any doubts. Because of their obvious respect and care for each other – alongside their unerring working relationship – Laurel and Hardy were the real true love of each other's lives. A convincing production, and one to see.