Tom McGrath’s hit play Laurel and Hardy finds the iconic comedians looking back over their lives, loves and friendship in a story that blends slapstick humour, melancholy, and beautifully simple theatricality. First performed by McNicoll and Power in 2004, that production has remained a favourite in the hearts of Capital theatre-goers ever since.
A play that celebrates male friendship and the redemptive power of comedy, Laurel and Hardy sees the actors reunited with director Tony Cownie as they revisit the production having previously wowed audiences with their performances as the two older men. Now, that they are closer to the real ages of Laurel and Hardy at the end of their careers, should allow them to bring new depth and truth to the moving and funny production.
Cownie says, “When I met up with the great Tom McGrath in the autumn of 2004 to talk about the upcoming production of his Laurel & Hardy play, what struck me most was his deep sense of affection for those downtrodden, hapless but nevertheless contented pals that made their way through the depression and into all but the most hardened of hearts.
“He wanted to tell the real story but mostly he wanted to see them live. This was, he said, the main driving force. I kept in constant contact with him during rehearsals and although he wasn’t in the best of health, he was always eager to contribute and advise. Nothing was ever the finished article. Something we learn he had in common with Stan.
“There are some productions that stay with you. Tom’s Laurel and Hardy has never been far from the minds of those who were lucky enough to be part of it some 17 years ago. In some ways, Steve and Barney are now the perfect age to play ‘the boys’ as they look back on their lives, friendship and careers. I suppose in many ways we have all come through a great depression with Covid. What better medicine than the best play about the best comic double act in history?”
Laurel and Hardy runs from June 3 to 25.
The Lyceum’s 21-22 season opens next month with Life is a Dream, by Pedro Calderon (October 29 to November 20). The first Lyceum production for a live audience since 2019, the piece will be performed in the round and will also be the last to utilise the theatre’s special extended stage. It stars Lorn Macdonald as the imprisoned Prince Sigismund; released for one day as an experiment he emerges into an intensely confusing world where his greed, resentment and anger quickly gets him re-incarcerated, convinced by his jailers that his day of freedom was all just a dream.
The festive offering from the Lyceum is next. Christmas Dinner, by Rob Alan Evans, celebrates community and imagination and runs from December 6 to January 2, 2022.
This year, Christmas is a little different. It’s not happening. Or at least not for stage manager Lesley. The closest she wants to come to festive joy is the turkey sandwich she has in her lunch box, so she is shutting down the theatre, turning off the lights and going home to have dinner alone. At least, that’s the plan… but as the bells of St Cuthbert’s strike twelve, it seems the theatre has other ideas.
Scent of Roses, a world premiere written and directed by Zinnie Harris, opens the 2022 half of the season.Running from February 25 to March 19, this darkly funny new play about truths, lies, and how we tell them begins with a wife who decides to take her husband hostage to finally have an honest conversation.
The Meaning of Zong, by Giles Terera, follows, running from April 13 to 24, and tells of the aftermath of the massacre of slaves aboard ship Zong 200 years ago.THe piece interrogates the impact of the subsequent court case which, for the first time, considered the fiscal cost of a human life.
Closing the season, the world premiere of Red Ellen, by Caroline Bird, runs from May 4 to 21. Red Ellen is the untold story of revolutionary socialist politician and journalist Ellen Wilkinson, who became a national figure when she played a prominent role in the 1936 Jarrow March.
Looking ahead to the season, artistic director David Greig says, “For well over a year, The Lyceum theatre has been closed. Now, finally, our doors are open, and we’re able to welcome our audiences in person. To celebrate, we’re offering a season of work which takes us back to the basics of theatre: actors, stage, and story.
“Starting with the in-the-round immersivity of Wils Wilson’s Life Is a Dream and the madcap festive smorgasbord of Gill Robertson and Rob Evans’ Christmas Dinner we begin with shows full of invention and joy and which go straight for the theatrical jugular.”Then, in The Scent of Roses we premiere a new play by Zinnie Harris which starts with a woman taking her husband hostage. Darkly funny, wholly theatrical, and completely compelling.
“Comforting illusions are shattered again in a new play by Giles Terera: The Meaning of Zong. Red Ellen is another epic new play. It’s a story that resonates clearly today.
“Appropriately for a season that celebrates the relationship between audience and performer, we end in June with a revival of Lyceum classic: Laurel and Hardy by the late, great Tom McGrath.
There’s no doubt The Lyceum’s 2021/22 season is a gamble. We’re putting on big plays and hoping to attract big audiences. Right now, there is so much we don’t know about the future… but there is one thing we do know: it is in times of change that theatre is most alive.”