Hats off to Laurel and Hardy was written by Philip Hutchinson after he encountered problems touring the well known Tom McGrath play Laurel and Hardy. As a fan of the boys, and an actor, he had wanted to tour the play around small theatres and share their lives. Alas, it was not to be, but after researching the play and recognising that some of the information contained in it is out of date, he decided to write a new show, taking care to present the most accurate accounts he could find.
Philip had contacted the museum some time ago about his show and I was interested to see his results. When he told me that he was bringing it to a Milnthorp, wild horses couldn’t keep me away.
The theatre was the Heron Theatre a very small, community run place in a small village, with an enthusiastic group of volunteers who attract a decent audience for their fortnightly show. I had reserved my ticket on the phone and was extremely embarrassed to find out that they don’t take credit cards on the door, but that’s another story.
The play begins with Stan in the audience waiting for the show to start, Ollie admonishes him and comments on how long it had been since they had last seen each other, Stan agrees and replies “do you remember how dumb I was? Well I’m better now..” So begins a short skit, inspired by Blockheads in which Ollie mistakenly believes Stan to have lost a leg in the war. Ollie carries Stan onto the stage and they begin to recount important events from their lives, in character, to the audience. Their may be a danger that this form of monologue could become slightly flat and boring, however Phillip and Tony intersperse the tales with more live skits, jokes and songs inspired by the films; along with fantastic pre recorded films which are a loving and accurate recreation of some of the best remembered scenes. A notable one being “Put ‘em up insect, before I comb your hair with lead”, a phrase which will bring a smile to many Laurel and Hardy fans as the boys first time on screen together. It’s a scene which works well, and the films which follow all show a high respect and admiration for their work.
Philip and Tony also pull of the characters nicely. Philip’s ‘Ollie’ successfully managing to stop short of making him seem like a bully, and Tony as Stan perfecting his blank look and trusting demeanour. The accents are good too, Stan’s Americanised Lancashire twang, and Oliver’s southern gentility both come across well.
The information they present is well pitched, there’s plenty of good stuff for the most fervent fan, while not being too in depth so as to put others off. I even learned a few things, and remembered others I’d either forgotten or not thought about for a while. I find it interesting to see how others interpret the information, things such as Laurel and Hardy’s marital histories could be shown in many ways but here it is presented nicely. Not shying away from the facts or sugar coating their problems, but neither did it seek to ‘dig the dirt’ and present our boys as monsters. The characters on stage had made mistakes along the way, had come to terms with them, and moved on.
All things considered, it is a worthy addition to the increasing depictions of our favourite comedians, I had a great night out and I’m very excited that we will be having the show at the museum in the near future. Hats off to Laurel and Hardy will be at the Laurel and Hardy Museum at the end of November.
If that has got you interested in seeing the show, click here to buy tickets.