...And This is My Friend Mr Laurel

★★
theatre review | Read in About 2 minutes
Published 08 Aug 2015

This show isn't quite another fine mess at the Fringe, but as a dramatically meaty insight into one half of the greatest comedy double-acts in cinematic history, it falls short.

It's the 1950s, California. An ageing Stan Laurel (Jeffrey Holland) is visiting his long-time collaborator and friend Oliver 'Babe' Hardy. Hardy—famously voluble on screen but represented here by a white bedframe—has had a stroke. As Laurel tries to keep his partner's spirits up, he begins to reflect on their shared past.

Co-written by Holland and Gail Louw, there's a lot of affection in this production. Holland hasn't lost the comic charm he brought to sitcom Hi-de-Hi! back in the 80s, and is warm and engaging on stage. His enthusiasm for Laurel shines through in his lovingly realised portrayal. His transatlantic twang is a nice touch, reflecting Laurel's British roots.

The problem is that this feels like a dramatised Wikipedia entry. The stricken Hardy becomes an excuse for tenuously linked anecdotes about Laurel that—while interesting, as biography often is—involve explaining a lot of things Hardy would presumably already know, lack momentum and steer away from hints of darker depths.

Laurel's anger with Fox for re-framing his and Hardy's clowning as doltishness is a fascinating example of studio interference. But these info-dumps rarely coalesce meaningfully, making for an amiable but unfocused hour. Tellingly, the warmest laughs come from Holland's recreation of the pair's sketches. This is one for Laurel & Hardy completists only.