In these days of the desperate flailings of Miley Cyrus and the like, do you know what, sometimes a change of pace is required. Catherine Z-J and Queen Latifah may have put it best in the best deleted scene of all time:
Anyway. That is why the Royal Court’s adaptation – straight from the movie script – of Laurel and Hardy’s Sons of the Desert deserves to be a hit. They are taking a chance, doing something old, new, borrowed (with permission), but never blue – and what a lovely relief that can sometimes be.
To make up for the short running time of the Laurel and Hardy classic – you may find some audience members decked out in the requisite fez – this show is paired up with a first half of variety style entertainment, the sort of show in which the comedy stars made their name (and performed in Liverpool when they were past their prime on a number of occasions, apparently).
Mark Walters’s art deco design is fun and adventurous – preview shows had suffered when mechanics had become stuck. It’s a busy and exciting stage, Marie Jones’s costumes look the part, and Ken Alexander’s direction allows for snippets of the movie – or film to that effect – to step in when theatre can’t bridge the gap.
So in the first half, there’s a squeaky-voiced American majorette (Lori Hayley Fox), a singing chimney sweep (Matt Connor), the very Eric Morecambe-esque host Frank Fella (Jonathan Markwood), and the debut of our Laurel and Hardy, who riff on familiar sketches. Even the Royal Court’s long term musical director Howard Gray is dragged out of the sidelines for a few bit parts. Frank Fella’s panto-esque turn, making the audience yell back at him from the off, is a bit off-putting but fun enough in the end.
In the second act, Fox returns alongside Penelope Woodman as they play the long suffering wives of our heroes – well, possibly not heroes – as the story of Sons of the Desert plays out. As the classic duo, we have Michael Starke and Roy Brandon, who both excel. For those not familiar with the film, Laurel and Hardy sneak off to a Masons-esque men only convention while kidding their wives they’ve gone to Hawaii; their ruse is uncovered when the ship they would have been returning on sinks on the way back.
Chaos, inevitably, ensues, and it’s not only the enjoyable performances but also the impressive set that keeps everything running at pace. In true slapstick style, Laurel and Hardy end up on a roof, and the stagecraft of a scene that will be no surprise to fans has enough about it to thrill any audience.
Starke and Brandon are great – Starke in particular, although always pretty much the best thing about anything he’s in, hasn’t been so much fun since his wonderful role in Hairspray a few years back; that same sort of old school variety suits him very well.
Will it be enough to preach to the unconverted? Who can tell. The girl sat next to us on press night apparently hadn’t even heard of Laurel and Hardy; but there’s every possibility this show could attract all sorts, and especially that older demographic that would really enjoy the good clean fun of this show. Saying that, maybe we can all benefit from such change of pace, and hopefully that will pay off for the Royal Court.