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Charlie and Stan

Charlie and Stan


Wilton’s Music Hall

CHARLIE AND STAN at Wilton’s Music Hall


Charlie and Stan

“A striking insight into over-familiar figures”


‘Told by an Idiot’ have taken two of the most iconic, unusual and influential figures in show business and have shone a refracted light on them with such cock-eyed and fascinating focus that we see them both fresh and familiar. Fact gives way to fantasy, yet the truth of their characters magically shines through. The show, “Charlie and Stan”, ran in 2020, followed by a regional tour in 2021; and it is fitting that it now comes to Wilton’s Music Hall – a venue perfectly suited in which to tell the tale of Stan Laurel and Charlie Chaplin. They both had similar theatrical origins – the sketch and the pantomime of the music hall. They were contemporaries, and they both had parental disasters (which is explored in the show to great effect too). Both men made their first American tour with Fred Karno’s Company of Clowns, which is where we find them here, setting sail for New York at the dawn of the Twentieth Century.

As part of the London International Mime Festival, we expect a show with little or no dialogue; but we don’t expect such succinct and engaging storytelling. A mix of laughter and poignancy that is quite mesmerising. Framed in a series of vignettes, the narrative flashes forwards and backwards, and into dreams and nightmares. Stan and Charlie’s relationship was a troubled one – the real facts are cast overboard pretty early on, and we are left with the emotive essence, and eighty minutes of slapstick, acrobatics, dance, circus, music, mime. And plenty of gags.

The company comprises just four actors that often appear to be much more in number as they strut, disappear, reappear and morph onstage with an elastic theatricality. Danielle Bird captures Chaplin’s mannerisms with uncanny accuracy while making the acrobatic physicality feel second nature. There is a touch of Aurelia Thiérree about her performance – a fitting and perhaps unwitting similarity to Chaplin’s granddaughter; yet Bird’s natural stage presence, charisma and fluid performance certainly meets the standards set by the great family. Jerome Marsh-Reid, as Laurel, has perfected the raised eyebrows and affected nods and replicates, if not outshines, the flexibility and acrobatic skills needed for the role. We first see Nick Haverson as the cigar-chewing impresario Fred Karno, before he miraculously morphs into Charlie’s drunken and abusive dad; and later – Ollie Hardy. Complementing the trio is Sara Alexander, accompanying the action on piano. Seemingly improvised, it is as note perfect as can be. With not a sheet of manuscript of Zoe Rahman’s silent movie-esque score in sight, her playing is linked, by invisible strings, to every step and gesture the actors make. Even when Alexander moves away from the piano onto the stage (at one point as Stan’s mum), the musicality silently follows her with every movement.

It is quite a stunning masterclass in physical theatre, but the technique in no way detracts from the sheer entertainment value. Ioana Curelea’s ramshackle set matches the disorderly genius of the piece, and of the characters’ minds. Yes – the show is outlandish and chronologically haphazard, but the camouflaged precision and subtlety bring an emotive power that belies the comedy. It is out of the ordinary. And extraordinary. A striking insight into over-familiar figures.

The rivalry and camaraderie of Chaplin and Laurel is beautifully portrayed. Much is made of Stan being Charlie’s understudy on that first American tour. Charlie also dreams of throwing Stan overboard the ship. One of the most touching and affecting moments is brought to life in a sketch in which Stan visits Charlie, years later, at his Hollywood mansion. In Stan’s head they perform a tap dance together in perfect unison. In reality, though, Charlie is not at home and Marsh-Reid’s forlorn Stan realises his fruitless journey with sad eyes. Undoubtedly a reference to the fact that – bizarrely – Chaplin makes no mention of Laurel at all in his autobiography.

It is not easy to make slapstick and pathos walk so stylishly hand in hand. But ‘Told by an Idiot’ make it look so effortless; and as familiarly iconic and nostalgic as Charlie Chaplin’s stick and frogleg walk. “Charlie and Stan” is unique, original but instantly recognisable. A far-fetched fantasy that seduces reality. And ultimately seduces the audience.


Reviewed on 31st January 2023

by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Manuel Harlan



Previously reviewed at this venue:


Roots | ★★★★★ | October 2021
The Child in the Snow | ★★★ | December 2021
The Ballad of Maria Marten | ★★★½ | February 2022
Starcrossed | ★★★★ | June 2022
Patience | ★★★★ | August 2022
A Dead Body In Taos | ★★★ | October 2022


Click here to read all our latest reviews


Captain Corelli’s Mandolin

Rose Theatre Kingston & UK Tour

Captain Corellis Mandolin

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin

Rose Theatre Kingston & UK Tour

Reviewed – 1st May 2019



“the musical interludes are moments of beauty that complement the theatricality and flair of this evocative production”


The scale of Louis de Bernières’ visionary novel “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” is probably the main reason why it has taken a quarter of a century for it to be adapted for the stage. The multi layered and varied style of the epic narrative is a daunting prospect, but Rona Munro’s adaptation pinpoints the core of the story and, with a surgeon’s precision, cuts away the excess flesh to expose the rhythms of its passionately beating heart.

Director Melly Still’s adventurous production comes in two distinct parts. The first act comprises a series of finely composed vignettes that not only encapsulate the sultry atmosphere of the Greek island of Cephalonia, but serve also to set up the characters. At first we wonder at the hotchpotch of accents on display (from Irish, Welsh and Yorkshire through to RP) but soon realise the deliberate ploy to challenge stereotypes. We are not being asked to pass judgement, or decide who is the enemy, but to focus on the personalities.

Dr. Iannis (Joseph Long) has brought up his daughter, Pelagia (Madison Clare), on a diet of free thinking, which is now being threatened by the Italian occupation of their island. Meanwhile Carlo (Ryan Donaldson), an Italian soldier, tries to make sense of the invasion. Likewise, Captain Corelli (Alex Mugnaioni), an accomplished musician who carries his mandolin everywhere with him, only takes music, friendship and romance seriously. A reluctant soldier, armed with only his charm and his love of music, he is able to win the heart of Pelagia by his refusal to believe in the Italian invasion of Greece.

Although he doesn’t appear until the end of the first act, Mugnaioni lights up the stage with his strong presence, albeit a touch passionless. His slightly bumbling Englishness contrasts Clare’s feisty Pelagia who soon recognises his detachment to the military cause. But there is also a similar detachment to the relationship which, once ignited, burns slowly. More rounded is the relationship with Pelagia’s first love, Mandras (a brilliantly assured Ashley Gayle), that reveals the complexities of lost love in a more believable fashion.

The central theme of war, though, casts its shadow like an impending storm until it explodes with its full force after the interval. Mayou Trikerioti’s design comes to the fore as her simple yet evocative set of beaten metal morphs from the shimmering idyll of a Grecian seascape into the harsh smoky barrage of the battlefield. Jon Nicholls’ thumping sound echoes the waves of dance-like movement of George Siena’s choreography. The contrast is all too pertinent when, at a stroke, it overlaps with the relative peace of the village and the minutiae of their lives. And it is the finer details of these individuals that captivates most. Not just the people, but the animals too – Luisa Guerreiro threatens to steal each scene as the herb-chomping, affable goat while Elizabeth Mary Williams hangs upside down from a ladder as Psipsina, the athletic pine martin.

But there’s another clue in the title. And, yes, Alex Mugnaioni plays the mandolin exceptionally well. Superimposed onto Harry Blake’s pre-recorded score the musical interludes are moments of beauty that complement the theatricality and flair of this evocative production.


Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Marc Brenner


Captain Corelli's Mandolin logo

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin

Rose Theatre Kingston until 12th May then UK Tour continues


Previously reviewed at this venue:
Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde | ★★ | February 2018
Much Ado About Nothing | ★★★★ | April 2018
Don Carlos | ★★ | November 2018
The Cat in the Hat | ★★★ | April 2019


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