There’s an air of ghostly dust across the stage that is set to host this revival of Tom McGrath’s beautiful homage to the legendary comedy duo that was Laurel and Hardy. The eponymous play first took to the Lyceum stage in 2005 and 17 years later the same actors, Steven McNicoll who plays Oliver Hardy and Barnaby Power who plays Stan Laurel, reprise their roles as older men.
In 2018, the film Stan and Ollie sympathetically looked at the lives of the two icons of screen comedy at the end of their career when their brilliant star was on the descendent. McGrath’s take is quite different. In his play, the duo is already dead. In this grey world beyond the grave, whose palette created by Neil Murray perfectly echoes the black and white world of the films that made them, the pair narrates their lives from birth through boyhood to their trials and goals to success with a few marriages on the way.
Using the two seemingly bottomless grey white hampers that sit front stage, and the vaudeville signature style of these masters of physical comedy, their history unfolds in the sure hands of director Tony Cownie. While there is no mention of a costume designer, credit is due not only to the creation of Mrs. Jefferson’s dress that Stan dons over his suit to play his mother but to the rip apart sailor suits that delightfully feature in Act 2, as well of course the signature suits, ties and bowlers that were so integral to their act. These subtle props are used to perfection by McNicoll and Power who have caught the characters with immaculate accuracy from Hardy’s butterfly fingers and his exasperation at the contrived stupidity of Stan who deceivingly looks like he’s perpetually on the verge of sleep.
Act two sees the pair at the height of their success in the movie world and their story is punctuated by a recreation of their famous slapstick wallpaper sketch that is a masterclass in comic timing as the two actors morph quite magnificently to Stan and Ollie.
Throughout the performance, the show’s Musical Director, a white faced Jon Beales, accompanies proceedings on an upright piano including of course the duo’s signature tune of the Cuckoo Song that anticipates the capers about to unfold. Beales takes his turn at miming to an original speech recording, a quirky element to the play that evokes even more smiles, and supplies what might go under the category of Foley. He of course accompanies McNicoll and Power’s superb renditions of favourite songs such as Let Me Call You Sweetheart, Shine on Harvest Moon and, de rigeur, On the Trail of the Lonesome Pine. Their nimble soft shoe shuffles to At the Ball shows that two men can be graceful and actually just literally be light on their feet.
Tom McGrath’s play is a moving piece of work that honours the life of two belovèd artists, recreating the innocent humour of a bygone age that can still amuse folk who don’t actually remember Laurel and Hardy. Sheer joy from start to finish.
At Edinburgh’s Lyceum from 03 – 25 June 2022 Running time 2 hours 10 minutes