Read time:3 minute, 9 seconds

Rating: 3 out of 5.

If Jordan Conway is not a global super star in the next five years, I will eat my hat, just like the song made famous by one of last night’s subjects Stan Laurel, “Hat Eating”.

In fact the whole celebrity audience at ”Laurel & Chaplin – The Feud, were given bowler hats on the opening night. Seasoned veteran actors such as Wayne Sleep, Vicki Michelle and Matthew Kelly turned out to support the co-director, Michael Barrymore.

Jordan plays Chaplin and, amongst a group of gifted and crafted actors, still managed to steal the show. He has a stage presence that makes you think he was born to be there. 

Laurel & Chapman on stage

Coming a close second was Richard Gauntlet, who gave a master class in theatre acting as the original founder and manager of Laurel and Chaplin, Fred Gauntlet. As a show, you are presented with an array of incredible actors, so it is worth seeing just to confirm that real talent still does exist in the same world as the Kardashians. 

The problem with the show lies in what genre of theatre it is, as it doesn’t seem to know. Billed as Laurel and Chaplin The feud, it suggests a drama roughly following a similar direction as the Bette Davies and Joan Crawford tale. However the plot is not strong enough to hold the audience’s attention. One expects to see a drama, but there are only moments of conflict followed by an attempt to justify them at the end, when references to Chaplin’s autobiography, not mentioning Laurel are made.

The story of Laurel and Chaplin’s relationship with their manager Fred was a strong enough plot to keep the audience’s interest. The transition from Vaudeville theatre to Hollywood could have been expanded more, with attention to Chaplin’s rise to fame there.

Chaplin and Laurel’s relationship with Charlie’s mother Hannah (played superbly by Bronte Tadman), certainly breathed some life into the story but it felt wrong, almost embarrassing, when she started singing as it was the only musical number in the whole show.  It seemed out of place. 

Laurel & Chapman with co-director Michael Barriemore.

There were some wonderful slapstick routines but one or two would have been enough. The one when staged people were pulled from the audience went on too long and left me wondering if I was watching a circus or panto?  Either way, it detracted from what was the most interesting tale of that era, the climb to fame. 

Laurel & Chaplin is worth going to see, for when it works it really works. ‘Less is more’ jumps to mind.  If the show was finely tuned  (or Stan could of taken a have a hammer to it!.  With such talent on stage, this should be an enormous hit.

A poignant moment in theatre history was when Jordan Conway called the man who had become a father to him, the director Michael Barrymore, to the stage. Like Chaplin, Barrymore is an original clown, whose life has been steeped in drama over the last decade. You could not help but be reminded of the song by Smokey Robinson, “Tears of the Clown”.  Dressed in pink jogging pants and a grey top, he opened his heart to the audience with humility. 

Laurel and Chaplin were indeed the original rock stars of comedy as billed, but the story is a sober reminder of what damage fame can do; one minute, you’re on top of the world and the next, you’re a broken man.

Tickets are available at LW Theatre, London HERE.

Check out Laurel & Chaplin on Spotify HERE. 

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Steven Smith

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