Charlie and Stan slapstick homage riffs on the pair's clowning skills at Cambridge Arts Theatre

Jerone Marsh Reid as Stan and Danielle Bird as Charlie in Charlie & Stan.

Jerone Marsh-Reid as Stan and Danielle Bird as Charlie in Charlie & Stan, which can be seen at Cambridge Arts Theatre. - Credit: Matt Crockett

Charlie and Stan has opened at Cambridge Arts Theatre. Angela Singer reviews the show.

Jerone Marsh Reid as Stan and Danielle Bird as Charlie in Charlie and Stan.

Jerone Marsh-Reid as Stan and Danielle Bird as Charlie in Charlie and Stan - Credit: Supplied by Cambridge Arts Theatre

This show is an homage to slapstick. The actors are gymnasts, rubber limbed, able to fall about elegantly. Those who like silent films may enjoy these recreations of the genre they cherish.

There is no real story. The programme for the production presented to us by Told by an Idiot, says: “We were determined to value fiction over fact, fantasy over reality, and shine a very unusual light on a pair of showbiz legends.”

The play is set on a ship. Chaplin and Laurel are on their way from England, where they were both born, to America, where they were to become international stars.

They were both in Fred Karno’s Circus. Laurel was Chaplin’s understudy and they arrived in the United States on the same ship with Karno’s troupe.

Jerone Marsh Reid as Stan, Danielle Bird as Charlie, Reggie as Scraps, and Nick Haverson as Fred Karno in Charlie and Stan.

Jerone Marsh-Reid as Stan, Danielle Bird as Charlie, Reggie as Scraps, and Nick Haverson as Fred Karno in Charlie and Stan. - Credit: Matt Crockett

We see Karno as the ringmaster. But the play is without dialogue. It doesn’t explore the two stars’ ambitions or feelings. It doesn’t shine a light on their lives.

The play riffs on their clowning skills. Without an interval, it is some 90 minutes of exaggerated silent film-style gesture and people appearing from places you don’t expect.

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Danielle Bird steals the show as Chaplin. She captures his walk and his facial expressions in a way that is poetry.

Jerone Marsh-Reid as Laurel gives a lithe and heart-warming performance. He creates a character that reaches out to you.

Nick Haverson as Karno energetically embodies the style of the silent screen as well as playing a mean set of drums.

A big mention must also go to Sara Alexander whose piano in silent film style (music composed by Zoe Rahman) evokes the atmosphere throughout the play.

There are strong performances here, but the pace was slow and possibly writer Paul Hunter, though showcasing genius missed a trick by not giving us even a glimpse of the humans behind the showmen.

Charlie and Stan is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, September 25.

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