Review: Laurel and Hardy ***

Michael Barrass and Andre Vincent
Michael Barrass and Andre Vincent
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York Theatre Royal

I grew up with Laurel and Hardy. It was largely against my will. My brother was six years older and saw it as something of a personal mission to make me love Way Out West the same way he did. Something must have rubbed off because, while I never quite understood what was so funny about a fat man getting his head caught in a window, on seeing Martin Barrass and Andre Vincent in the duo’s bowler hats, memories of bank holiday double bills and a warm feeling returned.

In Tom McGrath’s play, Laurel and Hardy are in heaven’s waiting room, looking back at where they came from, their success and their friendship. Happily there is also a step ladder and a few buckets of paint to help them recreate some of their most famous scenes.

It’s impossible to get even close to their dexterity on stage. Barrass and Vincent, who is a degree more convincing as Ollie, give it a good stab and the play benefits from a much-needed injection of darkness in the second half. Here, Laurel and Hardy move towards that fateful year of 1940 when they parted company with the producer Hal Roach and tried to make it on their own. It didn’t work, the big studios wanted new talent. Laurel and Hardy were old, they were out of date and needed to be consigned to history.

There are better plays inspired by the giants of comedy, but as a tribute to one of the greatest double acts ever, this is a fitting one.

To November 5.