The events of The Strange Tale of Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel are fictional. This play is certainly not endorsed by the estates of Charlie Chaplin, Stan Laurel or anyone else for that matter!
But Chaplin and Laurel are remembered as two of the greatest and most influential figures in film history. Here we take a brief look at the life and times of Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel.
Silent cinema was at its height from the early 1910s to late 1920s. Film technology did not yet accommodate sound, so these films had title cards to help convey dialogue and plot. They were often accompanied by a live piano score, something this production will recreate.
Silent cinema was made obsolete by the arrival of the ‘talkies’ (films with sound) but still retains its fascination for many people – notably the success of modern films like 2011’s Oscar-winning The Artist.
Charlie Chaplin was one of the most celebrated figures of the silent film era and beyond. Born into poverty in London in 1889, he began his career as a child performer before becoming a vaudeville comedian. His talent took him to America as part of Fred Karno’s music hall troupe; in 1913 he accepted a Hollywood motion picture contract. So great was his success – by 1918 he was one of the most famous people in the world – that he set up his own film studios and in 1919 co-founded United Artists, a distribution company which revolutionised the movie industry, allowing stars to become their own producers.
Chaplin wrote, directed, produced, edited, starred in and composed the music for most of his films. Some of his most famous silent works include The Kid (1921), The Gold Rush (1925), City Lights (1931) and Modern Times (1936). In many of them he played his signature character, the Little Tramp, who became an international icon and embodied the films’ combination of slapstick comedy and pathos. After finally embracing sound, he continued to make masterpieces including The Great Dictator (1940, a biting satire on Hitler) and Limelight (1952, set in the London music halls of his youth).
Chaplin’s personal life was marked by turmoil: he was exiled from America in 1952 due to his liberal political sympathies and underwent two bitter divorces, but had a long and successful fourth marriage which produced eight children. Having set up home in Switzerland, he died there on Christmas Day 1977.
Stan Laurel is best known today as one half of ‘Laurel and Hardy’, the comedy duo who – like Charlie Chaplin – were among the few silent movie stars who successfully made the transition to talkies. Born Arthur Stanley Jefferson into a theatrical Lancashire family in 1890, he joined Fred Karno’s troupe in 1910 and became Chaplin’s understudy; but he left the troupe to stay in America before Charlie did, adopting a new stage name of Stan Laurel. He first encountered Oliver Hardy in 1917, but it was not until 1924 that Stan embarked on a full-time screen career – acting, writing and directing – and only in 1927 was the team of ‘Laurel and Hardy’ born.
While Chaplin had his ‘Little Tramp’, Laurel developed his own signature character, ‘Stan’: the skinny, head-scratching, childlike foil to Hardy’s hefty, pompous bully. Employing slapstick and physical comedy, they were prolific workers, making 107 short films, feature films and cameo roles - some of the best known being A Perfect Day (1929), Another Fine Mess (1930), County Hospital (1932) and Babes in Toyland (1934). They also toured their highly successful live shows around the UK and Europe.
Like Chaplin, Laurel had a turbulent personal life before finding happiness in his last marriage. His health declined and his performing career ended after Hardy’s death in 1957. In 1961, Stan Laurel was given a Lifetime Achievement Oscar for his pioneering work in comedy. He died in 1965.
The Strange Tale of Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel runs in the Minerva Theatre from 21 - 25 January.