Review: Laurel & Hardy - York Theatre Royal

York Theatre Royal says goodbye to its temporary round stage with a highly entertaining production of Laurel & Hardy. With the pantomime season just around the corner, this is the ideal show to get audiences in the mood for slick slapstick.

The show centres on our two heroes, now deceased, looking back on their lives. They act out key moments during their careers, mixing in scenes from their extensive canon of work, as we discover how they achieved their success and what they gave up for it. From their childhood, to their coming together and their eventual demise, the two central actors cover a multitude of characters as they take the audience on the journey of these celluloid legends. 

There are laughs from the start as late comers are greeted by Oliver Hardy, played superbly by Andre Vincent, who engages in interaction with the onlookers as he waits for his comedy partner to arrive. On the night I attended, a few technical difficulties delayed the start of the show but to the credit of Vincent (ably assisted by Ethel the Chimp) it was no issue and the audience were kept chuckling until all was ready to go.

In many ways the role of Stan Laurel could’ve been written for panto stalwart Martin Barrass. It seemed the perfect fit and a role he was born to play. The only possible downside is that York Theatre Royal audiences do not get to see the acting range Barrass is capable of as the performance would not have been out of place next to his usual sidekick, Berwick Kaler. Not that it was any the less enjoyable because of that as Barrass, along with Vincent, demonstrated excellent comic timing throughout the evening.

Joining Barrass, Vincent and the virtually constantly present Ethel the Chimp (played by herself) was Chris Madin, composer of many a great score from previous Theatre Royal productions.  His live accompaniment of the onstage action was wonderful and one of the highlights of the show. Another was Liam Doona’s flexible set – one again taking advantage of the current versatile stage configuration and the freedom of having space underneath which means things can pop up with both comic and practical effect.

Fans of Laurel & Hardy will get more out of it than others, understanding the in jokes and the film references, but this should not put off people unfamiliar with their work. If you like silly slapstick humour, you will love this. Another fine mess? No, another fine Theatre Royal production.

Laurel & Hardy - Final performances are on Saturday 5th November at 2.30pm and 7.30pm

Review by James Eaglesfield