Audience numbers were sparse and there’s a famous tale of a schoolboy going back stage at a matinee performance to apologise for the empty seats.
Stan told the youngster: “That’s okay, you’re here!”
The comedy legends then spent an hour in their dressing room going through several famous routines – just for him.
That anecdote demonstrates one of the reasons why Laurel and Hardy still hold a unique and affectionate place in the public’s heart, when so many comedy duos that came after them – notably Abbott and Costello and Martin and Lewis – do not.
Much of their charm and wistfulness is captured in a revival of the late Tom McGrath’s play ‘Laurel & Hardy’, which is in essence a theatrical love letter to the pair.
The performances of Barnaby Power (Laurel) and Steven McNicoll (Hardy) are the closest you will come to capturing the essence of the lad from Lancashire and the Georgia boy with impeccable southern manners.
The production, adeptly directed by Tony Cownie, sees Power and McNicoll reunited after first performing the play together almost two decades ago.
It proves a magical and rewarding return.
They successfully recreate some of the duo’s most famous movie routines – notably the ‘Soda Pop’ section from Men ‘O War (1929) (Ollie to Stan: ‘Don’t you understand we only have 15 cents!’) and the catastrophic ‘wallpapering’ scene from Busy Bodies (1933), while they found the necessary vocal tenderness during the musical numbers, including ‘The Trail of the Lonesome Pine’.
Their delicate and touching dance collaboration on the famous ‘Commence to Dancing’ number also proved a show-stopping highlight, as did their versatility channelling some of the friends and foes Stan & Ollie encountered throughout their lives – from multiple wives to movie producer Hal Roach.
The affection the actors evidently hold for two comedy geniuses was apparent throughout the near-two hour production, choreographed splendidly by Rita Henderson.
The play’s success would not be possible without the jaunty pace set by musical director and pianist Jon Beales.
A great production, whose Covid-interrupted run has now sadly come to an end.
Let’s hope for a rapid reprise.