The Strange tale of Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel

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Charlie Chaplin

Charlie Chaplin sails to America

Charming, clever, and laugh out loud funny this unusual mime show is a real treat. It’s not very often that I think that I could watch a show again the next night, because I think there would be more to see and more to laugh at, but this one is an exception.

A Told by an Idiot production, The Strange Tale of Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel  is largely composed of silent physical comedy. This absorbing piece is performed by a small very talented ensemble cast of four. The action is accompanied by Sara Alexander playing a brilliant original piano score composed by Mercury Award Nominee Zoe Rahman,

It tells an imagined tale spun around the journey of two young stage performers. Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel are leaving the shores of a grey England to seek their fortune in America.

Charlie Chaplin

Charlie Chaplin meets Stan Laurel

In 1910 the unknown Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel set sail for New York. They were part of Fred Karno’s famous music hall troupe. On this journey, Charlie and Stan shared a cabin and then spent two years together touring North America, with Stan as Charlie’s understudy.

Stan returned home, later finding success with his soul-mate Oliver Hardy. Charlie developed his Little Tramp character and within five years became one of the most famous figures in the world.

In Charlie Chaplin’s autobiography Stan Laurel is never mentioned. Stan talked about Charlie all his life.

This is a real homage to two great comedians of their time. The kind of slapstick beloved by the silent movies is much more impressive up close.  A frying pan becomes a handy weapon, ( also favoured by Tom and Jerry.) There’s a very funny section trying to fold a dead body into  a box. There is a lovely little dance section too. It is quite surreal to see Stan Laurel break dancing on the deck of the ship.

Charlie Chaplin

Charlie Chaplin – an emotional portrait

‘Charlie Chaplin’ was easy to watch, accessible and entirely absorbing. It looked simple but was layered and very skilled. I marveled at how much we can understand using only non verbal communication. We are visual animals first and foremost. Language is something that comes along later.

The audience participation sections were delightful. We had a random member of the audience taking over piano playing duties while Sara Alexander took on another role, and another front row hero joined in with Charlie’s swimming mime with great aplomb. The people  probably weren’t random, but I liked it anyway.

Charlie Chaplin

Charlie Chaplin – a comedy genius

I found this surreal physical comedy concoction far more engaging than I ever found the stars to whom it pays homage. I don’t remember ever laughing at the real Charlie Chaplin but Amalia Vitale was believable and likeable and highly engaging from the off. An extremely talented performer, hugely watchable and very funny, she had a great rapport with the audience.

It is a. ensemble piece but she is the star of the show, without a doubt. Her Charlie Chaplin was ego driven, hapless and hopeless. Always determined she tackled everything heart and humour. Hugely enjoyable.

The Strange Tale of Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel is on at Northern Stage and then on tour around the country.