And This Is My Friend Mr Laurel ~ Mill Arts Centre, Banbury

Reviewed by Helen McWilliams

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Heart-warming, informative and a superb evening at the theatre, ‘And This Is My Friend Mr Laurel’ is a one-man and one-act play written by the talented combination of Gail Louw and Jeffrey Holland (who stars as the man himself). It’s an autobiographical piece, as much about Oliver ‘Babe’ Hardy as it is about the ‘much-married Mr Laurel’.

With an extremely minimal set which encourages the audience to use their own imaginations (in more ways than one, given that this is a single-hander), the story takes place during one of Stan’s visits to Oliver’s bedside after he has suffered a stroke (Stan suffered a stroke, too – the previous year). We are almost led to believe that this was a one-off visit, whereas (as we are told at the end of the play) Stan actually visited a severely debilitated Oliver for eleven months, until his side-kick’s death.

Holland has Laurel’s characteristics to a tee, the play cleverly switches seamlessly between Mr Laurel as himself and Mr Laurel in one of his ‘Sketches’ where Holland plays both Laurel and Hardy, to astonishingly accurate effect. It’s astounding how a spotlight and a bowler hat alters the atmosphere of the piece, entirely.

A variety of emotions are conveyed while Stan is engaging in his one-sided conversation with Oliver, Holland is able to move the audience from laughter, to tears, to stunned silence.  It was clear that he held everyone’s attention, indeed at times one could have head a pin drop.

This truly was a memorable theatrical experience and a fitting tribute to both actors. The Q & A with Jeffrey Holland (after the interval) is an added bonus and his passion for the duo is evident. The show recently triumphed at the Edinburgh Festival and it’s easy to see why!

For tour dates, please see this link:  http://www.jeffreyholland.co.uk/Jeffrey_Holland/Mr_Laurel.html

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