Chaplin and Laurel cross the ocean to seek fame and fortune in the States

  • Told by an Idiot's production at HOME reveals comic pairing of Chaplin and Laurel before both found fame

Perhaps more slapschtik than slapstick, the Strange Tale of Charlie Chaplin and Oliver Hardy recounts the early careers of Chaplin and Laurel as they traverse across the USA with their comic act, Laurel as Chaplin’s sidekick and understudy.

Essentially a mime act, the  show gives us more of an insight into Chaplin than it does into Laurel, vividly recreating his brutal Victorian upbringing in London compete with alcoholic father and consumptive mother.

The two comedians were an odd couple and it is clear Chaplin thought himself the superior comic. When Laurel goes to visit him in Beverly Hills in the late ‘50s after Hardy’s death, there is a poignant scene in which he stands at the door of Chaplin’s mansion only for no one to answer.

Chaplin was a lifelong influence on Laurel, whereas Laurel does not merit a single line in Chaplin’s voluminous autobiography.

Charlie Chaplin, Stan Laurel, HOME, Told by an Idiot
Amalia Vitale as Charlie Chaplin

This is a physical show from Told by an Idiot –  or should that be fizz-ical? – which whizzes and pops along at a fast pace and delights in its own absurdity.

The action is riotous and joyful: pots are bashed over people’s heads, bodies pushed overboard (the play is set on-board the SS Cairnrona where Fred Karno set sail from London to New York in 19 with his troupe), rats gnaw at people’s necks, and at one point an audience member is invited on stage to become Chaplin’s beau.

Chaplin’s part is taken by Amalia Vitale, a tour de force performance in which she captures brilliantly Chaplin’s mute take on the world. Her facial expressions, quizzical eyebrows, and signature heel-turning walk – not to forget the tramp’s bowler hat and cane – render the master immediately real before our eyes.

Equal praise must go to musical director Zoe Rahman with a score that superbly underlines the play’s switch from bathos to pathos and back again.

The four actors on stage create a lost world in which misery could be supplanted by the laughter of millions and where the ‘talkies’ had not yet dominated the world of comedy.

The show is the creation of Told by an Idiot’s director Paul Hunter and adroitly pays tribute to a bygone era and a matching of misfits.

Runs at HOME until Saturday (8 February).