and this is my friend Mr Laurel
 

 

stan

Jeffrey Holland

. . . and this is my friend Mr Laurel

Aldridge Youth Theatre

****

Not so much another nice mess as a very nice boost as Jeffrey Holland staged his superb one man show . . . and this is my friend Mr Laurel to raise funds for Grange Players in Walsall.

Holland, who hails from the town, started his career at the Grange, and is the long time patron of the players whose theatre has been closed for the whole of the current season, almost a year, for essential maintenance work which will cost in the region of £60,000

As the name suggests the show is about Laurel and Hardy, or more specifically Stan Laurel, the Lancashire lad from Ulverston in the Lake District. Holland has been a fan since he was a child, seeing them in shorts in Saturday morning cinema at the likes of the ABC and Gaumont

Now, sixty or so years on, he is not just a fan but an expert on probably the most famous cinema comedy duo of all time and his one man show, written by Holland and award- winning playwright Gail Louw, has been a labour of love which has been 40 years in the creation.

It was first staged in 2013 and on its two visits to Edinburgh sold out both times with tickets already selling well for this year’s show in August -and, in the more humble surroundings of Aldridge, it had sold out again for its two night run.

It is set in 1956 with Laurel visiting his friend Babe, as Hardy was known, on his bedroom. Olly is in bed after suffering what proved to be a fatal stroke. He was to die, having never recovered, 11 months later.

Holland, as Stan, talks to the silent Olly about their career, the people that had known and memorable moments, some memorable for the wrong reasons, such as being ambushed  for This Is Your Life on 1954, an appearance Stan hated and he showed it - stony faced and uttering only four words in the whole show.

On a stage with just a chair and the symbolic frame of a bed, Holland is Stan Laurel; he has earned the comedy and acting credentials to play the role quite beautifully from Laurel’s sad expression of benign silliness to the harder side of Stan the actor, writer and director with his artistic and contract battles with Hal Roach.

This is your life - 1 September, 1954. Incidentally, the only live TV appearance by the pair.

Cleverly, with just a single front spot on a darkened stage, creating a small circle of light and shadow on the back wall, Holland dons Stan’s trademark bowler to recreate snippets from their 105 films, playing both characters; it is almost like punctuation between Stan talking about old times to Olly.

It is a life story which is at times funny, at times sad, and always interesting whether it is Stan’s marriages and congenital womanising or his lifelong devastation at the loss of his son, Stan junior, born two months early, and who died aged just nine days. A loss which probably ended his marriage to first wife Lois.

This is no catalogue of films or an attempt to explain the mechanics of their partnership but more about them, with Stan fussing around like a worried spouse, even talking of new ideas for when Olly recovers. We see the human side of the screen comic we all knew and grew up with.

Holland manages to hold an audience enthralled, standing alone on an all but empty stage - no easy task - and for an hour, he is Stan Laurel.

Then he is Jeffrey Holland, telling the audience in a Q&A session after the show that it was not so much a love of theatre so much as a lust for pretty girls which enticed him into acting.

Apparently, he attended a youth club which was somewhat lacking in excitement and pretty much everything else to interest a teenage boy. Then one day a friend suggested going to the local amateur dramatic group.

Jeffrey was less than keen until his friend happened to mention there were lots of pretty girls there – and the rest is  history.

He is still perhaps best known as Spike in Hi-De-Hi but he has been a regular stage visitor in the Midlands with the likes of Waiting for God, The Ghost Train, It’s Never Too Late and most recently as the dour band master Danny in Brassed Off at Wolverhampton Grand.

He was also the Dame in Dick Whittington at the Hippodrome in 2010, telling the audience he had played Dame 27 times, in between anecdotes about his comedy heroes, Laurel and Hardy.

Holland donated his services for free to the cause, which raised more than £3,000 in ticket sales while bucket collections on the two nights raised more than £350.

Roger Clarke

08-06-18

Grange Players are hoping to return to the Grange Playhouse for the new Season in Autumn with their next fund raiser on 7 July at Lyndon House Hotel with an evening of 60’s music from Sounds Familiar, including a buffet. Tickets £12.50. Box office 07909036835  

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