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  • Writer's pictureFrances

The Strange Tale of Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel Review | HOMEmcr | Manchester

Told by an Idiot are showing their appreciation to the icons of the silent cinema scene, reflecting the power of pantomime in a production that manufactures the best of 1910s film features. The group pay homage to the craft, with writer and director Paul Hunter, asking audiences to journey with Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel as they make their move from the UK to New York. As recent hires of Fred Karno’s Music Hall Troop, the production places the pair in a real, historical standing but envisions what took place onboard their tour of North America.

After working with the company, the collaborators separated, each visibly placing their own lasting influence on classic cinema; however, this show is a flamboyant tribute, asking what inspired the men before they became household names. Threaded together with several shorts that enlighten the audience on the pair’s impactful backstories and inspirations, The Strange Tale continuously pivots forwards and backwards in time. As they fuse fact and fiction, the (almost) silent production relives and refreshes the medium into a modern, vibrant space on stage. Little embellishment is needed for the narratives as the two men’s documented lives were full of melodrama and mimicry, but these tales are rooted in fantasy. With what is known of the well-loved clowns, streamlined into shorts that combine live music, captions and animated physical comedy, this production offers a rich display that illuminates the silent superstars’ talents.

On HOME’s stage the decked-out production circles around a pole, piano and drum kit, featuring the cast as the band, and an original piano score composed by Mercury Award Nominee Zoe Rahman. With an open set that allows for plenty of fast-paced action, the audiences vigilantly watch for the merging of visual gags, dance moves and subtitles that flow seamlessly on set.

Its natural comedy tips its bowler hat towards Chaplin’s life with Amalia Vitale’s doubling for the clown with an endearing and vigorous performance. Looking back on Chaplin’s childhood and having Vitale jump off the stage to invite an audience member into the world of mime, the stories tend to focus on Chaplin’s influence. Shaping a familiar take on his later partnership with Oliver Hardy, Jerone Marsh-Reid as Laurel balances the comedy with his reserved support. Offering audiences a taste of the past with an energetic revival of Laurel, his charismatic, breakdancing rendition of Laurel pulls together the free-spirited Chaplin and the prop heavy shenanigans taking place on stage.

Holding the appeal of silent cinemas well-timed pratfalls, slipups and foreseeable stumbles, the time capsule production plays out a loving tribute to The Little Tramp and Stan Laurel. Building on their legacy with an experimental live show that is silent but deadly through its execution. Told by an Idiot conjures a reflective and inspiring reframing of the greats, offers audiences a shared experience of the silent cinemas whimsical humour and the enduring influence these men hold in comedy.


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