Edinburgh Fringe 2016
An affectionate, almost reverential look back at the lives and careers of Laurel and Hardy, as seen through the eyes of a couple of stage hands on their 1950’s tour of Europe.
Laurel and Hardy remain, arguably, the greatest comic double act of all time. In their 1930’a heyday they produced a series of iconic short films before the commercial boffins persuaded them (much against Laurel’s better judgement) into full length feature films. Whilst these were never anything less than successful there is only so much comedy that you can take in a piece of entertainment, as Laurel noted.
In this affectionate and, at times, almost reverential piece of theatre, writer/performer David Leeson and his compatriot, Colin Alexander take us on a gentle wander through Laurel and Hardy’s careers. Seen through the eyes of stage hands on the duos European tour in the 1950’s, we’re treated to a few of their memorable routines and no opportunity is missed for Alexander to showcase his powerful operatic tenor voice, reprising Hardy’s often under-recognised skill as a singer.
Hardy, for one with such a corpulent figure, was also a surprisingly graceful dancer. His poise and economy of movement were the hallmarks of his movie career and this, combined with Laurel’s exquisite clowning had live and cinema audiences in tears of laughter without there being the need for dialogue. Given their complete lack of physical resemblance, Leeson and Alexander don’t try to impersonate their subjects, but are instead content to use their stage-hand persona to convey enough through movement, song and patter gags to keep the story moving.
The secret of Laurel and Hardy’s success was simplicity. Find a good joke (visual or verbal) or a good routine and stick to it. Leeson’s script sticks to this mantra as well which ensures that the laughs keep coming and the audience engaged. And no-one seemed to mind, either, when we all joined in what is probably their most famous song “The Trail of the Lonesome Pine”. Originally included in the 1937 film “Way Out West”, it became a major hit in the UK in the 1970’s when it was released as part of an album of Laurel and Hardy’s best known songs.
Perhaps more thought could have been given to the backing tracks chosen to support Alexander’s voice (they sounded too tinny, too electronic to be a credible representation of the instruments they purported to be) but, that apart, it was a very pleasant, reflective hour looking at two comics whose techniques are still much admired and copied almost a century later.