Writer: Gail Louw
Director: Jeffrey Holland
Denial lies at the heart of this solo show, in which Jeffrey Holland once again portrays comedy legend Stan Laurel in his later years.
Visiting his partner Oliver Hardy, home but incapacitated after a severe stroke, Stan is keen to talk up their chances of working together again. Ollie, or Babe, to use his nickname, is assured he’ll be back on the golf course soon, pursuing a sport Stan could never see the point in.
Stan reflects on how he preferred to spend his time in the cutting room, getting the current movie just right, or devising new material for the next one. He was the half of the duo who cared about the detail. He argued miserably with studio bosses for better contracts, with mixed results.
As Babe can no longer speak, his presence and absence are represented by a small metal bedframe, to which Stan addresses his thoughts. Of course, he’s really talking to us, the audience, but it’s this little theatrical conceit that enables the emotion of the situation to be teased out.
And emotional it is. As he struggles to deal with Babe’s illness, Stan recounts much of his own life story. He focuses in particular on his marital woes and the loss of his baby son at only nine days old.
Deep down, Stan knows the game is up. He just doesn’t want it to be. He refers to a milder stroke from which he recovered and tells Babe he can recover too. It’s heartbreaking stuff, and Holland has the rapt attention of his sell-out audience. He’s convincing as Stan Laurel, but as a performer he also carries himself with gravitas, with dignity.
After particularly poignant moments, the mood is lightened by brief and well-chosen vignettes, in which Stan performs both his and Babe’s roles. This works surprisingly well and acts as a reminder of why these characters still matter, nearly a hundred years since they became a double act.
Holland first performed this show ten years ago. The wonderful 2018 movie Stan and Ollie, starring Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly as the duo on a live tour of Britain and Ireland in the 1950s, covers some of the same ground. However, this is an even more intimate portrait of a successful but troubled man who loved performing, and loved to be loved.
Runs until 28 August 2023 | Image: Contributed