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Mark Fisher
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Follow me @markffisher and @writeabouttheat I am an Edinburgh-based freelance journalist and critic specialising in theatre and the arts. Publications I write for include the Guardian, Scotland on Sunday and the Scotsman. I am the author of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide: how to make your show a success, published in February 2012 and How to Write About Theatre: A Manual for Critics, Students and Bloggers published in July 2015. From 2000-2003, I was the editor of The List magazine, Glasgow and Edinburgh's arts and events guide. See my website for more information and comprehensive Scottish theatre links.
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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Laurel and Hardy, Mull Theatre review

Published in Northings

Laurel and Hardy
Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh, 26 March 2010, and touring

IF MY house was on fire, the first thing I would grab is the Laurel and Hardy DVD box set. I suspect I am not alone in that to judge by the audience for Mull Theatre's revival of the late Tom McGrath's bitter-sweet tribute to Stan and Ollie. When one of the actors says wistfully, "Those were the days", someone near the stage lets out a yelp of approval.

Yet there is some quality in McGrath's play that elevates it beyond a mere nostalgia-fest. If you have no knowledge at all of the comedy duo, I dare say there is much that will puzzle you, not least the valiant – and surprisingly successful – attempt to recreate on a very small stage the scene from The Music Box in which a piano careers down an enormous flight of stairs.

Neither are you likely to get the full measure of the many movie dialogue quotes scattered throughout the script or to work out which are original and which pastiches.

But I like to think that, in the performances by director Alastair McCrone – playing Stan Laurel for a surely unprecedented sixth time – and Barrie Hunter as Oliver Hardy, you will get a flavour of what made the unlikely pairing of a portly American from the Deep South and a skinny Brit from the Lake District by way of Glasgow the greatest double-act of the 20th century.

You will recognise it in Hunter's understanding of the balletic punctuation that accompanies Hardy's every phrase, each authoritative gesture in comic contrast to the ignorance of his speech. And you will recognise it in McCrone's emulation of Laurel's phenomenal ability to spin out the smallest of actions, such as getting out of a lift, into the most extended, and funny, of routines.

You will appreciate too how McGrath captures the sense of an unrepeatable moment of history. Brought together more or less by chance, conceived as a double act on a whim, Laurel and Hardy made the world laugh for over two decades before their time passed. But hanging over the play from the start is the feeling that the bubble must burst, that for all the joy they created, the laughter cannot go on for ever.

This note of sadness could be more forcefully played in McCrone's production, which can seem rushed, particularly in the portrayals of secondary characters (this, despite it doing a good job of explaining the secret of Laurel and Hardy's slow timing). But, rather like Morecambe, the Olivier award-winning one-man show that recreates the glory days of Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise, the production is played with so much affection and taps into so much collective love in the audience, it can only send everyone home with a warm glow.

© Mark Fisher, 2010

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