Adaptor/Director: Ken Alexander
Reviewer: John Roberts
“We were trying to do a very simple thing, give people some laughs, and that’s all we were trying to do”
The above statement from Stan Laurel seems easier said than done, not many people have a natural gift of comedy, where every slapstick whack and clowning escapade can bring an audience into fits of laughter, but alongside his partner in celluloid crime Oliver Hardy, they managed just that on a regular basis, becoming one of the best and most recognisable comic double acts in the world.
In a real coup and world first, Liverpool’s Royal Court theatre have gained permission to adapt for the stage one of the pairs most famous movies Sons of the Desert starring Liverpool favourite Michael Starke as Oliver Hardy and Roy Brandon as Stan Laurel.
With the main attraction only being an hour long, the first act of the evening serves up a fictitious variety act, full of music hall style acts, from the cheeky charms of Cheeky Chester the Singing Sweep played with delicious joviality by Matt Connor to the naughty innuendo filled quips from Jonathan Markwood as master of ceremonies Frank Feller. It also serves as a great framing device to welcome the stars of the show and gives them a chance to recreate their famous decorating sketch – a great warm up for the second and arguably most important act.
What is evident from the moment Starke and Brandon walk on stage is how perfectly cast they are, the buffoonish, oaf like charm of Hardy is beautifully realised by Starke, while Laurel’s squeaky mouse like figure is brought vividly to life through Brandon’s exquisite mimicry and rubber faced tom-foolery. The pair bounce off each other perfectly and come together like Apple Pie and Custard, so good, you just want more and more! Excellent support is given via the ladies of the company with Lori Hayley Fox and Penelope Woodman giving stern and matriarchal portrayals as Mrs Hardy and Mrs Laurel respectively.
While a little bit of the films pace and immediacy is lost in this stage adaptation, it’s still thoroughly captivating and enchanting, played in front of Mark Walters’ black and white Art Deco styled set helps to really evoke the era. Director Ken Alexander employs every clowning trick in the book to realise this production, and on the whole are executed with precision by this wonderful cast.
Under the energetic musical direction of Howard Gray the cast provide many familiar melodies, and Starke &Brandon’s rendition of ‘The Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia’ proving a real hit with the sold out audience.
Sons of the Desert is a nostalgic trip back to an era that is full of humour and song, and one that will leave you with a happy contented glow long after you leave the theatre.