...and this is my friend Mr Laurel
Gail Louw and Jeffrey Holland
Georgian Theatre Royal, Richmond
The stage is empty save for a tiny metal shape of a bed frame painted white. A small white wooden chair makes up the rest of the set and there are no props.
Jeffrey Holland (Hi-Di-Hi, You Rang M'Lord) is fulfilling a life long desire to pay tribute to his hero, Stan Laurel. He's dressed for the part in a smart suit and of course the famous Derby hat and he looks surprisingly like the real thing.
Stan's visiting his friend who is gravely ill in his Californian home.
'"How'ya doing babe?" he enquires of the empty bed frame. Holland makes it easy to imagine the other half of Hollywood's most famous double acts laying there in the bed. A little later when he goes to check whether Hardy's catheter bag is full, I strained my neck to look too.
Between the platitudes, the much-married Stan tries to cheer up his friend with reminiscences of their time together, recounting stories, mostly about marriage—and with ten weddings between them he tells Hardy that he's happy at last. "I married some of them a few times, mostly to check I wasn't wrong the first time."
There's a poignant sadness to the empty stage, a feel of Laurel and Hardy as lost icons, but as the lights dim he pulls on his hat, a life-like Stan makes those button eyes work and with that unmistakeable boyish grin he tells a few jokes.
"I know something you can't do," he says.
Replying to himself in Oliver's American twang he says, 'What's that then babe?"
"You can't strike a match on a bar of soap."
As they say, the old ones are always the best.
I can't fault Holland's interpretation of his hero, but he doesn't really inhabit the man; his performance is rather more doing an impression. But I did really enjoy the show and I'm sure Holland's impression of the man will inhabit my memory for a long time.
I would like to have heard more about his childhood and a few more anecdotes of his life backstage. And there were a few repetitions, but those Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia still pine for the lonesome.
Reviewer: Helen Brown