...and This is My Friend Mr Laurel

Pleasance Courtyard

From 30 July 2014 to 25 August 2014

Rating: ***

Review by David Chadderton

Jeffrey Holland, best known for a long-running role as the junior holiday camp comic in sitcom Hi-de-Hi back in the 1980s, investigates the life and comic mind of Stan Laurel in this one-man show in a tiny room at the Pleasance.

The set consists entirely of a white wooden chair and bed frame, the latter supposedly occupied by "Babe", as Laurel's partner Oliver Hardy was known to his friends and family. Hardy is gravely ill and would die within a year.

The deathbed chat is not uncommon for biographical plays—the phrase "we had good times" is repeated several times—and can work well, but this script doesn't make the situation at all convincing. In order to tell the stories to the audience, Holland's Laurel tells Babe lots of things he already knows.

It may have worked better if the hospital visit had been scrapped and Stan had spoken directly to the audience. As it is, it feels awfully contrived.

But we do get to hear about a lot of things in the lives of the duo, both in their professional development, from meeting, leaving Hal Roach for the larger studios and seeing their films on TV broken up by adverts, and in their personal lives. There are plenty of interesting anecdotes and some funny lines.

Occasionally, Holland flashes into being the Laurel and Hardy screen characters to comment on the stories or as a flashback. In these, his Oliver Hardy isn't bad, but his Stan Laurel is beautifully recreated and instantly recogniseable even before he speaks.

The show is well performed and quite entertaining and occasionally informative, but it doesn't break any ground or really take off either as a comedy or as an exploration of a great man.