Imgine if Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel had formed a double act…cue Told By An Idiot letting their imagination run free

Danielle Bird’s Charlie Chaplin, front, being lifted by Jerone Marsh-Reid’s Stan Laurel in a scene from Charlie & Stan with fellow cast members Sara Alexander (Charlie’s Mum and show pianist) and Nick Haverson (Fred Karno and show drummer). Picture: Matt Crockett

CHARLIE Chaplin and Stan Laurel could have been the greatest comedy double act that nearly was, and now they are in Told By An Idiot’s fantasia Charlie & Stan.

On tour from February 7 to March 4 after playing the 47th London International Mime Festival in a run at Wilton’s Music Hall, writer-director Paul Hunter’s silent comedy visits York Theatre Royal from February 14 to 18 in a poignant celebration of two Englishmen who changed the world of comedy

First told by Told By An Idiot in 2019, then revived by producer David Pugh for social-distanced performances and a run outdoors at Cornwall’s Minack Theatre under pandemic restrictions, Hunter’s “trueish” piece of magical storytelling returns in 2023 with its intertwining of real-life events with a fantastical reimagining of Chaplin and Laurel’s two years spent touring together before either became famous.

“The initial starting point was a friend of the company bringing us the idea of telling the story of the then unknown Charlie and Stan setting sail for New York in 1910 as part of Fred Karno’s music hall troupe, sharing a cabin and travelling around North America for 18 months with Stan as Charlie’s understudy,” says Paul, whose revival kickstarts Told By An Idiot’s 30th anniversary year.

“Stan got homesick and came home; Charlie received his invitation to go to Hollywood and within five years became one of the most famous faces in the world.”

 To make Charlie & Stan, Paul created a detailed storyboard structure and then fleshed out the scenarios with the actors, just as with Chaplin would eschew a script in favour of thinking, “the only thing I want to do is make something in a particular place” and then work from there.

Told By An Idiot writer-director Paul Hunter

“I knew I didn’t want to have mime or be experimental or avant-garde, but just tell the story without words but with the help of props and a jazz piano score by Zoe Rahman [played live by Sara Alexander] in a very captivating 85 minutes straight through to mirror the length of Chaplin’s films such as The Gold Rush.”

Paul may “play fast and loose with the facts” in his non-verbal, highly physical show but he did investigate into why a partnership failed to materialise. “Chaplin never mentioned Laurel even once in his autobiography, whereas Stan talked about Charlie, about him being our greatest comedian, until his dying day,” he says.

“Maybe this was the greatest double act that never was, but Chaplin was never going to share the spotlight with anyone, after his horrendous childhood. Maybe he was also jealous of Laurel because he was so talented too. Like when Stan had to go out on stage on his own when Karno refused to increase Charlie’s pay – and there was Charlie, sitting watching him from the fourth row!

“Ultimately, Laurel found his soul mate in Oliver Hardy, whereas Chaplin was a complete one-off, not only an extraordinary performer but also there’s an argument to say he was one of the greatest film directors, working in the dark with new skills as filmmaking changed.”

Paul’s show is based on fact, but “we refer to it as a true fantasy, where setting sail for New York leads us into the world of imagination with flash-forwards to Stan bumping into his future comedy partner and Charlie’s Little Tramp character evolving,” he says.

“We made a very conscious decision that all scenes should be completely inventions of our own, rather than taken from any film – and I love how we’ve been able to hoodwink people into thinking they are movie scenes!”

Setting sail for America: Jerone Marsh-Reid’s Stan Laurel, left, and Danielle Bird’s Charlie Chaplin. Picture: Matt Crockett

Chaplin was 21, Laurel a little younger, when they headed to America. “It’s a big thing, particularly for our two performers, that we wanted to cast them close to the ages that Charlie and Stan would have been,” says Paul.

“Danielle Bird (Charlie) and Jerone Marsh-Reid (Stan), who did the last tour too, are both in their early 20s. If cinema is a palace of dreams, then theatre is its own world of make-believe, and that’s reflected in the casting.

“When I was absorbed in the world of Chaplin, I was fascinated by his movement: he could have been a ballet dancer. Nijinsky even asked him where he trained as a dancer, but he didn’t, but Charlie had this feminine grace, which opened it up to a woman playing the role.

“At times the audience just see Chaplin and forget Dani is a woman. Every night Chaplin has to get a woman out of the audience to swim – and I think it would be more difficult if a man were playing him. There would  be more reluctance to go on stage but they trust a woman and that allows us to go further.”

Likewise, when picking Jerone for Stan, Paul says: “He’s mixed race, from Stafford, and again I thought there’s no point finding someone who can do an impression of Stan Laurel, but they had to capture the spirit.

“He’s being played by an actor who never thought he’d even be seen for the chance to play Stan, but that’s the nature of theatre: a world of imagination, rather than filling in the gaps for the audience, which makes the audience feel smarter – and all our work loves to do that!”

Told By An Idiot in Charlie & Stan, York Theatre Royal, February 14 to 18, 7.30pm plus 2pm, Thursday and 2.30pm, Saturday matinees. Box office: 01904 623568 or

Copyright of The Press, York

Creating a world of imgination: Told By An Idiot actors Jerone Marsh-Reid’s Stan Laurel, left, and Danielle Bird’s Charlie Chaplin in Paul Hunter’s “true fantasy” Charlie & Stan. Picture: Matt Crockett

Showtime for Anton and Erin as Strictly duo celebrate Fred, Ginger, Chaplin and Elton

Terpsichorean twirlers Anton du Beke and Erin Boag toast their return to the dancefloor in their first tour since early 2020

LONGSTANDING, long-dancing ballroom couple Anton du Beke and Erin Boag are reunited in Showtime at York Barbican tomorrow night (18/2/2022).

After a fallow 2021, when the pandemic put paid to their tour plans, the Strictly Come Dancing alumni have been on the road since January 28 this winter, playing 30 dates that will take in further shows in Yorkshire at Hull New Theatre on February 22 and 23.

“Not only 2021 was lost,” says Strictly judge Anton. “We lost shows in 2020 as well; we were into the last week of our tour, when were going to play York and then go onto Scotland, so it’s been a while since we danced together.”

Sevenoaks-born Anton, 55, and New Zealander Erin, 46, are taking to the dance floor in Showtime, a “glittering tribute to some of the world’s greatest icons of entertainment”: Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Charlie Chaplin, Shirley Bassey, Tom Jones, Liza Minelli, Elton John and more besides.

Glittering tribute: Anton and Erin are ready to dazzle in Showtime

Returning to dancing after sitting down through the 2021 series of Strictly on the judging panel, Anton says: “To be honest with you. it’s been like ‘wow, I only feel like I’m 28’ because there’s a lot of experience to fall back on.

“We did a few special shows at the back end of last year, like one night in Leeds, where we were only there to do a couple of numbers, and my biggest concern was ‘would the suit still fit’. It did! Then Erin asked, ‘would you do up my zip’, and her dress fitted perfectly too.”

Erin says: “I’m fit! There aren’t many dancers at my age still going strong, but I am, though I’m not the same [dancer] as I was 20 years ago – or even two years ago. But keeping fit is the easiest part. The hardest part is the technical side, but I’ve been really looking forward to the tour as I don’t think anyone will notice that!

“Maybe adrenaline can get you through the first few shows and the presence of an audience can do that too, as well as working with people again, performing with a big orchestra. It’s all about the enjoyment of getting back to dancing again.”

“It’s all about the enjoyment of getting back to dancing again,” says Erin Boag

Six months of preparation have gone into Showtime, a show produced by Raymond Gubbay that combines the dazzle of ballroom couple Anton and Erin with “stunning costumes, fabulous live vocals, a high-energy dance ensemble and a sensational 23-piece orchestra”.

“We have a new sound company working with us, great lighting and costumes,” says Anton. “When there has been no shows, it’s been so much more than Erin and me not being able to put on a show. No shows means no frocks, no work for sound engineers. That’s why it’s important that now that shows are back, the message is clear that people can feel safe to come into a theatre.

“It’s also important that people work harder to make the experience enjoyable, with venues going the extra mile. We get that venues need to be safe, but their job is to make it enjoyable within the safety guidelines. Don’t be officious, be welcoming!”

Anton And Erin in Showtime, York Barbican, tomorrow (18/2/2022), 7.30pm; Hull New Theatre, February 22 and 23, 7.30pm. Box office: York,; Hull,

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Everything is right for The Play That Goes Wrong to go wronger for a bit longer on next week’s return to Grand Opera House

What could possibly go wrong? Cue the chaos, calamities, crises and catastrophes of Mischief’s The Play That Goes Wrong, returning to the Grand Opera House, York, from September 28. Picture: Robert Day

THE Play That Goes Wrong keeps getting it right, an Olivier Award winner from the Mischief makers that has chalked up productions across every continent, aside from being given the cold shoulder by Antarctica.

The West End’s longest-running comedy is spreading chaos and calamity across the Duchess Theatre for a seventh year and the fourth major British tour brings the show back to the Grand Opera House, York, from Tuesday after an earlier run there on tour number three in May 2018.

For those yet to encounter the thrills, spills and comedy mayhem of The Play That Goes Wrong, how would co-writer Jonathan Sayer sum it up? “It’s a comedy all about a drama university group who are putting on a play and everything that could possibly go wrong…goes wrong,” he says. “There’s a big cast, there’s lots of jokes and it pretty much does what it says on the tin.

“The three writers [artistic director Henry Lewis, company director Sayer and Henry Shields] have all worked in theatre and have experiences of things going awry in shows we’ve been in.

“Some of my favourite moments watching theatre have been where things have gone dreadfully wrong and the actors are forced to deal with the mistake and try to keep the show on track. 

“On top of that, a huge influence for us is Michael Green, who wrote The Art Of Coarse Acting and actually taught Henry Lewis at youth theatre. Then there’s a huge amount of physical comedy, which is definitely a nod to Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton.” 

Mischief began in 2008 as a group that specialised in improvised comedy in London and Edinburgh but now creates new comedy for theatre, such as Magic That Goes Wrong, on tour at Leeds Grand Theatre earlier this month, and for television, with the new six-part series of The Goes Wrong Show beginning on BBC One on September 27.

“We created the script for The Play That Goes Wrong when the three of us were living together in a pretty run-down flat in Gunnersbury,” says Jonathan. “We were all working in bars and call centres and restaurants, and in the evenings we’d come home and we’d write until the early hours.

“There’s a huge amount of physical comedy, which is definitely a nod to Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton,” says The Play That Goes Wrong co-writer Jonathan Sayer. Picture: Robert Day

“The initial script took about a month to put together and we then workshopped the script with the rest of the Mischief team. Everyone’s done a lot of improv, so we try and take those principles into the writing room and into rehearsal where, if someone has an idea, you accept it and you build on it.”

From playing to 60 people in pub theatres, Mischief have gone on to take productions to 35 countries, none more successfully than The Play That Goes Wrong.

Back for a second tour of bumps and bruises is Huddersfield actor Gabriel Paul, last seen in York in 2018 playing Trevor, the sound engineer pressed into an emergency role on stage.

“There’s just me from the 2018 tour among the 2021 principals, but all eight of us have been in the principal cast on a previous tour, so we’re like the Avengers being reassembled as they needed people to do it who were already familiar with the challenges involved, all up to speed, because of the Covid situation,” he says.

“It was my agent who first put me up for an audition in November 2017 – when I was really embarrassed because I didn’t know anything about the show at all! – and that process involved a lot of improvisation because the director and writers had devised the show around a lot of improvising.

“Initially I auditioned on my own but I ended up doing five auditions, going down to London from Huddersfield each time. They don’t mess about! They really put you through your paces as they want to see how you work with other actors.”

Teamwork is vital, as Gabriel has found on tour in 2018 and 2021 and in the West End in 2019. “One hundred per cent that’s the case. There’s a certain skill in trying to make things look bad or that they’re going wrong, and you have to really be in tune with your fellow actors because otherwise you could get hurt if things go even more wrong than the title would suggest!” he says.

“Being a physical show, it’s not just the stunts we do, but there are strains you can get, so we do group physiotherapy sessions with Carl Heaton, a sports physiotherapist from Manchester, once a month.”

The fourth tour should have run from December 2020 to April 2021 but after the opening day’s two shows, Lockdown 3 put paid to those dates. Instead, Gabriel and co have been on the road since July 13, relishing a return to playing to audiences.

Gabriel Paul reprising his role as sound engineer Trevor in The Play That Goes Wrong, now “going wronger for a little bit longer”. Picture: Robert Day

“We have a saying, because there are 12 characters, we always say the 13th character is Nigel Hook’s award-winning set, but the 14th character is the audience because we do encourage them to participate and even to call out sometimes,” he says.

“It’s the audience’s reaction that I most enjoy about this show; being in a room where you hear people crying with laughter. Hearing that joy all around the country is wonderful.

“I’ve done plays with heavy subject matters  and they’re important to do, but it’s great to hear laughter again after the 18 months we’ve had.”

Comedy or tragedy, serious or light, Gabriel has enjoyed myriad stage roles, whether in Northern Broadsides’ Quality Street, The Queen Of Chapeltown at Leeds Playhouse, Bouncers for Esk Valley Theatre or Othello for Demi-paradise Productions.

“I wish I was in that position of being able to choose roles, but that’s not the reality, but I’ve had the chance to work with fantastic people in fantastic shows,” he says. “I like to do something funny or something conversational, like Everything I Own, the Daniel Ward play I did when Hull Truck Theatre reopened in June with a trio of monologues.

“It was about Errol, a man of Jamaican descent, who grew up in Hull and has just lost his father to Covid. He’s organising his father’s house, and it’s a play with universal themes about loss and grief, fathers and sons, family stories and a love of music.”

Now, “having hoped he had done enough never be asked back, Gabriel is contractually obliged to say he’s extremely honoured to be reprising the role of Trevor and getting the chance to go wronger for a little bit longer”, or so his The Play That Goes Wrong biog jokingly says.

The truth is, half way through a tour that runs until the end of November, Gabriel is loving every minute of being in the Wrong place at the right time again.

Mischief present The Play That Goes Wrong, Grand Opera House, York, September 28 to October 3, 7.30pm and 2.30pm, Saturday and Sunday matinees. Box office: 0844 871 7615 or at

Copyright of The Press, York

Gabriel Paul playing Errol in Daniel Ward’s monologue Everything I Own at Hull Truck Theatre this summer