Growing up in an age of full colour TV and high budget action films decked out with all the latest technology, I was sceptical when I found out that my family and I were going to see a theatre production based on the silent films of Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel. It didn’t take long to change my mind.
The plot of the play depicted the friendship between Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel as they travelled together on the same boat from England to New York, and the subsequent falling out of the comics. Based loosely on true events, there was also a great deal of fiction, including a depiction of Chaplin’s nightmare as he battled Laurel with a frying pan. This trademark slapstick was a main theme throughout, and the incredible precision of the actors’ movements in avoiding real injury whilst tripping and being thrown around the stage was both deeply impressive and hilarious.
The comedic value of the acrobatics was only heightened by the live pianist, who sat on stage and followed the mood and actions on stage with impeccable timing. Using jazz standards and classics of the Chaplin and Laurel era, such as Sinatra’s ‘Smile’, as well as following the slapstick with cluster chords and chromatic scales, it was almost hard to believe that the pianist was really there and improvising to fit the action on the spot.
Not afraid to break the fourth wall, the actors often acknowledged the presence of the pianist, creating humorous scenes in which the actors had to change their actions in order to fit the music, at one point being forced to dance the habanera during an episode of fighting. At another point, the pianist had to stop playing all together in order to join in the action, and the audience was filled with dread as the actors leapt off stage to search for a pianist amongst the audience. The room collectively sank into their seats, but not at the expense of their enjoyment of the evening, as only willing participants were chosen and the comedy was greatly enhanced.
A satisfying ending commenced in which each actor one by one tipped their bowler hats, strolled into the audience, and left via a side door, allowing the audience to applaud each actor individually. It was after this that many amongst the audience burst into a standing ovation, despite the theatre itself being merely half full. This production certainly deserved a full house, and I hope that, should it return to the theatre, as it has frequently done so over the years, that it will achieve this.