Wednesday, 19 February 2020

REVIEW: The Strange Tale of Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel at HOME, Manchester


Told By An Idiot, The Strange Tale of Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel is a slapstick, made up story set in 1910, created around a picture with Stan Laurel and Charlie Chaplin on their way to America as 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. This show is a take on their meeting on the boat during this time. 

I went to see this show during its run at the HOME theatre in Manchester. A nice small proscenium arch stage with a 3-tiered seated theatre. Sat in the middle of the stalls I had a fantastic view, but I believe that the view would be good no matter where you sit at this theatre. When you walk into the auditorium the house music is 1920’s type flapper music, setting the feel of the time and the ‘silent movie’ theme.

This show is mainly silent, using quips and slapstick humour from old silent movies for which Charlie Chaplin was famous for. There is no dialogue in the show, the only sound coming from the music, the physical movements and the occasional singing. It took me a moment to get into the silent mode of the show, however once I was in the zone, I found it very compelling and engaging, however I felt that I was taken from this slightly during the random musical singing moments.

With only a cast of 4, two of which play a variety of roles within the show; cleverly using bags and suitcases to identify their characters. The wardrobe is styled perfectly, transporting you to 1910 along with the props; all being underscored by an original piano score, performed live each night by Sara Alexandra, who simultaneously plays Chaplin’s mother. You have full trust in the actors and what is happening on stage, with great choreography and physical theatre, you cannot deny the talent and skill of these performers, each also having a turn playing instruments such as the drums, piano and flute.

Director, Paul Hunter, was able to make the most out of his troupe, with intelligent use of set, stage and props, forcing the actors to be extremely energetic and entertaining. However, there was a juxtaposition between funny and sad melancholy within the story, which again took me out of the show. The narrative got a bit lost on me from time to time, as the timeline was mixed with past and ‘present’ of being on the ship, and as the story was purely speculation, I felt that it left too much space for questions. This could purely be due to the fact that there was no dialogue and only a projection on to a curtain as a guide, but I felt that these jarring moments happened too often, that I found myself questioning its place within the story. There was a ‘modern’ dance moment with break dancing which I felt was out of place and there were moments of audience participation, encouraging audience members up on the stage and interacting with the cast. Because the show is silent and took me a moment to get into it, I felt that these
added moments of breaking the 4th wall took me right back out of that world. So as much as I enjoyed the show as a form of entertainment, I found myself zoning in and out more than I cared for.

Overall the show is charming, creative and unique, with a stellar cast being led by the captivating Amalia Vitale, who you believe is Charlie Chaplin from her first step on the stage. I’m glad that I went to see this show, as I’ve never seen anything like it, and so in that respect I’d encourage others to see it during its UK tour, which ends in March.

Review by Erenie Mavrommatis

Rating: ★★★

Seat: Stalls J11 | Price of Ticket: £24
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