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The Strange Tale of Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel

“Expressive physical comedy”

Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel arrived in the United States on the same ship. Both honed their slapstick skills as part of theatre impresario Frank Karno’s ‘army’. Both went on to change the shape of screen comedy.

Told by an Idiot tells the story of this brief meeting through a mixture of mime and physical comedy interspersed with silent movie surtitles and energetic live piano accompaniment from Sara Alexander.

The performances are a delight, as physically dexterous as they are eloquent, illustrating how both men’s music hall backgrounds would inform their screen personas. As Chaplin, Amalia Vitale proves herself a physical comedian of immense charm and skill. As Laurel, Jerone Marsh-Reid has expressive physicality and nimble feet. Nick Haverson, who can raise a laugh with an exaggerated drunken stumble or a waggle of an eyebrow, morphs from Karno to Laurel’s future comedy partner Oliver Hardy simply by stuffing a pillow up his shirt and popping a bowler hat on his head.

But Paul Hunter’s virtually dialogue-less production is less sure-footed when it comes to storytelling. It hops backwards and forwards in time, from the poverty and hardship of Chaplin’s Victorian childhood to his success in the US. We see the first time Laurel meets Hardy, and the latter’s death, but there’s little sense of emotional trajectory or what, if anything, the two men’s early shipboard encounter meant to either of them.

It’s enjoyable despite this. Ioana Curelea’s clever, multilevel set provides plenty of scope for pratfalls and tumbles, choreographer Nuna Sandy brings pep and energy to the dance sequences and, though designed as a touring production, the show can’t help but benefit from the magical atmosphere of Wilton’s Music Hall.

Jerone Marsh-Reid: ‘As a British-Caribbean actor, I was surprised to be auditioning to play Stan Laurel’

Related to this Review

Told by an Idiot designer Ioana Curelea: ‘Young people are trying, but you can’t do it by yourself’Told by an Idiot designer Ioana Curelea: ‘Young people are trying, but you can’t do it by yourself’

Production Details
Production nameThe Strange Tale of Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel
VenueWilton's Musical Hall
StartsJanuary 14, 2020
EndsJanuary 18, 2020, then touring
Running time1hr 30mins
AuthorPaul Hunter
ComposerZoe Rahman
DirectorPaul Hunter
ChoreographerNuna Sandy
Set designerIoana Curelea
Lighting designerAideen Malone
Video designerDom Baker
CastAmalia Vitale, Nick Haverson, Sara Alexander, Jerone Marsh-Reid
ProducerTheatre Royal Plymouth, Told By An Idiot
VerdictTold by an Idiot's celebration of two cinema legends with music hall roots is immensely charming but lacks storytelling clarity
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Natasha Tripney

Natasha Tripney

Natasha Tripney

Natasha Tripney

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