Paul Hunter’s comic drama Charlie & Stan is a fun ‘what-if’ – based on the true story of two of Hollywood’s greatest 20th century film stars – Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel. Both were British, and left Blighty on the same steamship from Liverpool to New York travelling with the impresario Fred Karno. They form a double act in Hunter’s imagination, accentuating the mannerisms that made them famous, and discovering the props that propelled them to the silver screen.
Hunter, who also directs, maintains a Hollywood flavour to each of the scenes, named in captions that also act occasionally as instructions to the audience. Most of the action is, appropriately, silent. Zoo Nation’s Nuna Sandy’s movement direction animates much of the show whilst Complicite’s Jos Houben’s choreographed slapstick fight scenes that are a delight.
Danielle Bird’s Chaplin is a youthful trickster, stealing dinner from Karno’s suitcase and then preparing it as if he’s eating at the Ritz only for Karno (Nick Haverson, who also doubles as Chaplin’s drunken father) to grab the food back. We see scenes from Chaplin’s past, his mother (Sara Alexander, who doubles as the show’s pianist) taken away to a mental institution, his father returning home sozzled, bursting into music hall songs. These moments are the only time we hear the cast, and the audience is encouraged to join in singing these popular ditties.
Stan’s future double act with Oliver Hardy is depicted in a couple of stand-out scenes with Stan (Jerone Marsh-Reid) joshing with Hardy (Haverson, again, in magnificent form). The power plays between the two swiftly become apparent with Stan the more emollient of the two. Marsh-Reid also doubles as a doctor, lithely combatting Charlie in a fight across the deck of the steamer (designer, Ioana Curelea), choreographed to the superb percussion score composed by Zoe Rahman.
Hunter finds time to involve the audience in a couple of sketches, with Alexander coaxing a little boy onto the stage to play the piano. In another scene a new girlfriend for Charlie is found in the stalls, miming his love to her across the stage. An audience-pleasing production.