Laurel and Hardy

Tom McGrath
Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
(2005)

Running until 1th May, Laurel & Hardy is the sort of solid, relaxing, entertaining theatre that will delight the Lyceum's audiences. It rounds out what has been a strong season for the Royal Lyceum Theatre Company, communicating both the humour and pathos involved in the lives of comedians Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy.

While they have the benefit of Tom McGrath's strong script, Steven McNicoll (Hardy) and Barnaby Power (Laurel) do a remarkable job of fully inhabiting their characters. Minor quibbles about accents aside, these two actors' timing, both comic and tragic, is impeccable.

Designer Neil Murray has created a set which takes full advantage of both the height and depth of the Lyceum's stage. In his capable hands the space becomes a film set in the afterlife, and, as it is almost entirely devoid of colour, it evokes the feeling of the black and white comedies the comedy duo was famous for.

Jon Beales' musical direction and accompaniment highlight the humour of the piece. His timing is flawless on each cue, and while McNicoll and Power mime whacking and stomping on one another, it's Beales' contribution to these moments that are key in getting laughs from the audience.

While the evening richochets from the stories of each of the comics' separate beginnings to their eventual career together, the production stays focused on the humanity of the two men, while ascribing to the same standards of decency which would have ruled the pictures they made together. There is no sensationalism or dirtiness in the piece - although the carnal appetites and relationships of both men are hinted at, they never take centre stage. Even the marital discord of the characters is portrayed in such a way as to be funny, rather than nasty. This in no way seemed to hinder the audience's enjoyment of the piece, and would seem to indicate that while carnality and vulgarity can be used to good effect when treated carefully, they are in no way required to draw in modern audiences.

This production of Laurel & Hardy will entertain both hardened theatre-goers and those more casual attendees. It's certainly more interesting than anything on offer at the local multiplexes, and while the humour may not be what passes for entertainment in most of today's comedy films, the laughs provoked by this play are far more likely to stick with audiences once the lights have come up and they've left the theatre.

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Reviewer: Rachel Lynn Brody