As comedy double acts go, Laurel and Hardy are right at the top of the tree, and this 1976 play, by Scottish writer Tom McGrath, captures their unique style with all its innocent charm.
We find our heroes in a kind of celestial waiting room after their deaths and, fortunately for us, they decide to pass the time by re-enacting key moments of their lives and some of their most memorable lines and routines. Equally fortunately, the waiting room comes equipped with costumes and stage props, thereby enabling them to impersonate various other characters, such as their producer Hal Roach, Ollie’s wife and mother, Stan’s father and the Scottish impresario who gives Stan his first comedy spot in Glasgow.
It is a tribute to the two performers that despite the multiplicity of accents required, they never lose track of their two central characters. Indeed, they are superb at suggesting all the familiar vocal and physical mannerisms with consummate ease. Simon Lloyd as Ollie has just the right degree of courtly gentility, and with his long deadpan face Neil Bromley could have been born to play Stan.
The play stands or falls by the skill of the actors, and in this regard it is triumphant. Incidental music by Julian Ronnie, set and costume design by Phil Newman and deft direction by Philip Dart all ensure that the spirit of Laurel & Hardy still works its particular brand of magic in this intimate space.
If there's one thing which niggled throughout the evening, however, it is that the playwright seems to have missed a trick in not exploring a little more fully the nature of their partnership. We learn that Stan is the more ambitious, and wants them to take more control of their own work (which they finally do, with less than happy results) but there is little else which seems to get under the skin of the two men. Their relationships with women are alluded to in a few lines, but there is little real sense of what made them tick, except as a comedy double-act. Perhaps there is no way of knowing, and perhaps this is an unfair comment on a very entertaining piece, but a little more imagination, a little more daring, would elevate it to another level.