Charlie and Stan
Later this month, Told by an Idiot return with their hit show Charlie and Stan as part of London International Mime Festival, following a sell out run in 2020. We find out more from cast members Sara Alexander and Nick Haverson about what audiences can expect and why they can’t wait to get back into rehearsals.
How do you feel about starting rehearsals for Charlie and Stan?
Nick: Well, I'm looking forward to it, to be honest. Although I have to get quite fit, because I suddenly realised that the physical element of the show is extreme. There were many times, the last time we did it, where I was literally panting and going, why am I doing this to myself? So I need to get fit. It’s the team that took it on tour the last time, so when we all get together, we have lots of laughs and it's a really great pleasure to do the show. Let's get this show back on the road!
Sara: I'm very excited, very happy to be in a curious, playful, intelligent, light-hearted room and getting my heart and soul inside Zoe's (Rahman) wonderful music.
Can you tell us a bit about the show?
Nick: Well, the great thing about this play is that it's like a silent movie, only on stage. And that is a joy. It's a joy because I don't have to learn any lines anyway. But, no, it's a brilliant story of Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel and others, all before they were famous, when they were part of Fred Karno’s, the empresario, his barmy army. And they were two brilliant talents that he brought together. This is when they were pretty much on a boat going out to America, where they would eventually find fame and fortune. But at that point in time, they were just going on tour, like most actors and comedians and musicians do, but while they're on the boat, they actually share a cabin. There was a hint to the fact that maybe Charlie and Stan were two different personalities and maybe they didn't get on. We look at truthful elements, things that actually happened, and elements that are slightly fantastical in the good old Told by an Idiot fashion. So the story really centres around that relationship and it goes back in time, so it tells you a little bit about Charlie's upbringing, which was pretty harsh, and then it also flashes into the future a little bit as well. We get to see the building of the tramp, the image of Charlie that he came to be known best for. It’s a lovely tale and it's told in 80 minutes, the same length as the silent movies were, so hopefully everybody enjoys it.
Sara: It's a little bit bonkers, a little bit unusual. Hugely physical, filled with music and a very imaginative play on two icons.
What can audiences expect from Charlie and Stan?
Nick: They can expect to get a little insight into the world of these two characters before they were famous. It's a little known fact, actually, that Stan was Charlie's understudy, and I think the play itself tells that story and it shows you the relationship of two enormous talents. Obviously they went on in their different directions, but it's kind of light hearted and it's very poignant. You can expect things that will make you feel slightly teary and also gain great insight into the early days of Chaplin, which were not pleasant by any stretch of the imagination. It's a little 80 minutes show, full of adventure, and it goes on a very beautiful journey.
Sara: Just over an hour of nonstop imaginative play, some very skilled physical performers, lots of live music and a very accessible fantasy inspired by two icons.
Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel continue to be huge inspirations for many in the comedy world. What do you think is the reason behind their longstanding legacy?
Nick: The reason for their long standing legacy is because they were brilliant, absolutely brilliant. Not just as comedians, but also as athletes. Charlie especially, was just extraordinary. The feats of some of the silent movie era comedians and performers were quite outstanding. We would never try those sort of stunts these days. You would have a stunt double, but not for these guys. These guys did it first hand and they were quite incredible. They also had a beautiful way of touching you. You look at films like The Kid, City Lights, these films are just beautiful and they go straight to the heart and have stood the test of time. I think they've stood the test of time because they're fundamentally very simple, and they go straight to the emotions of a person and they're absolutely excellent. And as for Stan, well, Stan, yeah, likewise. Just extraordinarily funny. And people love that sense of humour. It's a very simple, funny, almost banana skin like humour, but it can't stop you from laughing. It's just extraordinary. I would still watch their films now and be giggling, and that's amazing. After however many years, that's just extraordinary and long may it continue.
Sara: I think it's because they brought a lot of heart and universality to their work, they're consummate clowns, and reach to something that a lot of us will have experienced. But it's wild, isn't it? Because there would have been hundreds, if not thousands, of performers doing very similar things. They seem to reach past the screen in a way that others may not have been able to, and they hit that medium just at the right time with a huge amount of skill and heart.
What are you most looking forward to about performing in the show
Nick: There are so many elements to the show which I really enjoy. I love the opportunity to play Oliver Hardy. I love the opportunity of just getting on a set of drums and playing that music. But most of all, I'm very fortunate to be part of a great team. And when we all get together, something magical happens. And that really is the key element for me. Working on this show, when you get these four people together, sparks fly. We have fun and we tell a story which we think is extraordinary. And, of course, working with Paul Hunter is always a joy. The whole show, I'm going from one bit to the next and changing character, and it's everything an actor, especially a comedic actor, could want. And once again, I don't have to say anything, which is blissful. That always helps. And I think most audiences would probably appreciate me not saying anything as well.
Sara: I think it's got to be Zoe's music. That's my main role in the show. But I do relish being able to jump out from behind the piano as well and play with the others. The chance to really deepen when you revisit a show, especially with the Idiots, it's not just about remounting, there's going to be some reworking and it's going to be still a very creative process. So I'm looking forward to really developing the music and hoping to really let it shine.
Told by an Idiot are celebrating their 30th birthday in 2023. What’s been your favourite part about working with them?
Nick: Working with Told by an Idiot, which I've done a good few times now, is always fun. And I think I'm so long in the tooth now that I've got to a point whereby we do this silly job and if you can't have fun and enjoy it and be around nice people, then what's the point? You focus on the work wholeheartedly, but at the same time, everybody has a voice, everybody can contribute. You feel that you're making the production together and listening to each other, which is what it's all about. But the idiots are very good at doing that and they always instil in you sense of confidence and they want to see what you can do and I love it. They're a great team and they are full of the wonders of joy. So let's give that back to the audience as well.
Sara: So it's the idiot's 30th birthday. That's amazing. My favourite thing of being in an Idiotic room is that it is very playful, it's very safe, it's very curious, it's very intelligent, it's very physical and it's really satisfying and has fed my imagination in all sorts of weird and wonderful ways.
How would you describe the show in 5 words?
Nick: Tricky, fun, poignant, heartwarming, silent and true. Almost.
Sara: The show in five words playful, physical, imaginative, musical. I'm trying to think of one word which means gets right inside someone's heart. Run out of words. Not very good at sticking to a short brief. Just ask my family. Bless them.