An actor’s life provides strange twists and turns. At the height of his fame in the television comedy, Jeffrey Holland was asked to open the Laurel and Hardy museum in Cumbria where the world famous comic was born.
They knew he was a fan of the Englishman who had emigrated to become one half of the best-known comedy double-acts in film history and Jeffrey was delighted to do the honours in Ulverston.
That was back in 1983 ... fast forward more than 30 years and Jeffrey is now playing the role of his comic inspiration in a one-man show that comes to the Kenton Theatre on March 29.
“I know, a one-man show about a double act sounds a bit different but it is set in the room where Oliver Hardy is lying after suffering a stroke in 1956 and is visited by Stan,” says Jeffrey for whom the play is the fulfilment of a lifelong dream.
“I am a great believer in things coming together and I met Gail Louw, the woman who has written the dialogue and she asked ‘are you are the man who wants to do the play about Stan Laurel?’
“It was also just the right time as I was, 66, the exact age that Stan was when the play is set. I knew I would have to get into my autumn years to do it properly. It really is a labour of love for me.”
The comic linking of Laurel and Hardy worked because they were so different in appearance, the larger moustachioed Hardy shaking his head in disbelief at the thin Englishman whose face flickered between bewilderment and sadness when he was told again by his partner: “Well here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into.”
Jeffrey’s comic credentials to play the part are impeccable. He was an essential part of the great television comedy shows through the Eighties and into the next decade with the role of James in You Rang, M’Lord following on from his success playing Spike in Hi-de-Hi.
He honed his acting talents with the master of farce Ray Cooney in a succession of West End plays and toured with stage versions of hit TV comedies.
Indeed after his matinťe at the Kenton next month Jeffrey hotfoots it to London’s Menier Chocolate Factory theatre for the evening performance of Ray Cooney’s farce Two into One which is being directed by Cooney himself.
As he explains: “You could not have two more different acting roles. A one-man show brings its own special pressures. It is just you, there is no back-up. In farce even with doors opening and closing and people rushing around. If something goes wrong you have the rest of the cast to help you.
“In a one-man show you have to give yourself mental clues to the next paragraph.I was doing Laurel one night and got to a point where the audience reaction was completely different than it had been before.
“I thought ‘that was a nice laugh, bigger than last night’. It completely threw me and I thought ‘what the hell do I do now?’ I had to look up for help and say ‘give me a line’. I was so damned angry that from then on I gave the finest performance of the play that I have ever done.”
He is clear that Laurel was the creative genius behind the pair: “He was the creator, he directed all their work, he did all the editing and honing. He worked tirelessly while Oliver Hardy would just go off and play golf.
“He was the brains behind the whole act. He was a very driven man. The play is set in Hardy’s bedroom and Stan comes and chats and reminisces. I do some of their famous routines.I think that the play gets to the essence of Stan Laurel the man. It is ironic that they first worked together in 1921 but then did not meet again for five years. They were a wonderful pairing.”
Tall and slim, Jeffrey looks strikingly like Stan and can capture those famous facial expressions: “I have God-given eyebrows which help,” he says. He appreciates that his career has allowed him to work with some hugely talented people: ‘I have been very lucky to have worked with some terrific writers. On television there was Jimmy Perry and David Croft and on the stage Ray Cooney. Real masters of their craft.”
Now Jeffrey is bringing back to life one of the real masters of comedy and one of the finest British comedic exports to America along with Charlie Chaplin and Bob Hope. Stan Laurel may have died in 1965 at the age of 74 but his name still conjures up some of the most iconic moments in film.
lAnd This is my Friend, Mr Laurel is on at the Kenton Theatre on March 29 at 3pm. To book tickets go to www.kentontheatre.co.uk or ring (01491) 575698. The box office in New Street is open from 11am to 3pm Monday to Friday and on Saturday from 10am to 1pm.
There’s a move to the other side of the Atlantic for the Henley Symphony Orchestra’s Spring Concert at the Hexagon.
The energetic programme, being performed at the Reading venue on Sunday, March 9, opens with the intoxicating Caribbean rhythms of Gershwin’s Cuban Overture before dancing in the New York Streets to Bernstein’s ever popular West Side Story.
The rarely performed Triple Concerto by Beethoven features three exceptional young instrumental soloists who also happen to be close friends.
Matthew Trusler, Thomas Carroll and Ashley Wass, pictured, are outstanding solo musicians who have also collaborated in various ways over many years. The trio was officially formed at the 2012 Lincolnshire International Chamber Music Festival and seeks to perform pieces that are rarely heard.
Matthew Trusler has developed a reputation as one of Britain’s leading violinists.
Performing on a bow once owned by Heifetz, Trusler has been invited to perform as a recitalist and concerto soloist throughout Europe, Australia, the USA, Japan and South Africa. Trusler has also founded a record label, which has attracted some of the most important artists of today, and the Lenny Trusler Children’s Foundation, which raises money for desperately ill babies.
Described by The Strad as a player of “authority, passion with an unerring sense of direction, full of colour and underpinned by a clear musical intelligence”, Welsh cellist Thomas Carroll launched his career when he won both Young Concert Artists Trust and Young Concert Artists, New York. He is currently a professor at the Royal College of Music in London and the Yehudi Menuhin School.
Ashley Wass is firmly established as one of the leading performers of his generation. Described by Gramophone magazine as a “thoroughbred who possesses the enviable gift to turn almost anything he plays into pure gold”, he is the only British winner of the London International Piano Competition, prizewinner at the Leeds Piano Competition, and a former BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artist.
Ashley is a professor of piano at the Royal College of Music, London, and is an associate of the Royal Academy of Music.
The Triple Concerto provides a classical interlude, and the concert ends with another story - of Till Eulenspiegel’s merry pranks - by Richard Strauss.
* The Hexagon concert on March 9 starts at 7.30pm. To book tickets call the box office on (0118) 960 6060 or visit www.readingarts.com