Last Updated on 12th February 2023
Paul T Davies reviews Told By An Idiot’s production of Charlie and Stan on its tour stop at the Mercury Theatre Colchester.
A transatlantic voyage in 1910, and on board are two performers who, after arriving in America, rocket to worldwide fame. Playing as part of Fred Karno’s musical troupe are Charlie Chaplin and his understudy Stan Laurel. We can only speculate what happened on that trip, but there is photographic evidence, and director and Told By An Idiot co-creator Paul Hunter has created a hugely enjoyable piece, performed (almost) without dialogue, to a live piano score. It’s a silent movie unreeling live in front of your eyes. It is a style we see less of now, classic slapstick, with some recognisable routines, but also showing how tough Chaplin’s upbringing was.
Danielle Bird is flawless as Chaplin, every movement capturing the Little Tramp, communicating every tiny nuance through to a more expansive theatrical style perfectly. She is matched by the equally excellent Jerone Marsh-Reid as Stan Laurel, beautifully capturing his onstage vulnerability and sweetness. Playing a variety of roles, including Karno, Nick Haverson is outstanding, especially as Chaplin’s drunk father and as a spot on Oliver Hardy, providing one of the show’s many highlights. The quartet is completed by Sara Alexander, also multi-rolling, and playing the piano score to perfection. It’s a show packed with energy, though some of it did feel lost in the wide expanse of the Mercury main stage.
At eighty minutes with no interval, the show is a little too long, and the narrative becomes a bit unclear in the middle of the show. However, it has a huge heart, ad when the cast leave the ship in New York, there’s a real sense of poignancy as Stan meets Laurel, and Chaplin exits with his trademark walking stick and hat. It makes you want to watch those classic movies all over again, and hope that a younger generation discovers them.