...and this is my friend Mr. Laurel
Almost 7 years ago now Jeff fulfilled a long-time ambition when he trod the boards as one of the worlds best loved comedy stars, Stan Laurel. He portrayed his idol in a new one-man play ‘….And this is my friend Mr Laurel’ co-written by the award-winning playwright Gail Louw and Jeff himself. The play debuted on Wednesday 21st August, at Upstairs At The Gatehouse and running until Sunday 25th August. The production then played at The Tabard Theatre in October. Such has been the response that Jeff is now touring the country with this amazing piece of theatre.
Set in Oliver Hardy’s bedroom, the action takes place as Laurel pays a visit to his sick friend, recounting their past success as one of the greatest cinematic partnerships of the century and providing an in depth, humorous and touching account of the comedian’s life.
Jeff’s fascination for Laurel and Hardy began as a small boy at the Saturday morning cinema picture show. Their childish antics proved appealing to the young lad who could identify with the comparison between them and how boys of the day behaved. “I loved the way Olly thought he was smarter than Stan when in fact he was far more stupid, it always made me laugh,” Jeff explains. “They became my friends metaphorically speaking of course”, he continues. “I always looked forward to the Laurel and Hardy film and if there wasn’t one, I was bereft!”
With the passage of time, Jeff’s interest in this legendary double act took a back seat temporarily until the early 70’s when BBC2 began regular screenings of the pair, which rekindled the spark for Jeff. A talented mimic, Stan soon began to feature regularly among his impressions and who could forget the classic episode of Hi de Hi when Jeff joined forces with the much loved and missed Paul Shane as Oliver Hardy to complete the team. During this period Jeff also discovered The Sons of the Desert, the official Laurel and Hardy appreciation society of which he is now an honorary member.
In 1983 Jeff was invited to Ulverston in Lancashire, the birthplace of Stan Laurel where he opened the Laurel and Hardy Museum, an event that filled him with great pride but for some time now his thoughts have never been far from paying his own tribute to the comedian in the form of a one-man show.
After two years in the planning, the dream is now a reality with this wonderfully crafted piece a huge success.
The Broadway Baby
The Western Park Gazette
The Leicester Mercury
To don the mantle of one of the world’s greatest comic idols is a daunting prospect for any actor but when that idol is one half of a pioneering screen double act and you are co writer of the script, the challenge rises to a whole new level.
For some time now, the idea of portraying Stan Laurel of Laurel and Hardy fame in a one-man show has been a concept Jeffrey Holland has considered his destiny to fulfil but how best to bring that concept to fruition? When he met award-winning playwright Gail Louw last year, the pieces finally fell into place and together they created ‘…and this is my friend Mr Laurel’.
In a performance that can only be described as a complete tour-de-force. Mr Holland brings Stan Laurel back to life giving us a touching insight into the man behind the comedian, a stark contrast to the image we grew to know and love.
The action takes place in the bedroom of Laurel’s stroke stricken partner Oliver Hardy as Laurel visits his dying friend, recounting their successes and shortcomings. Clever use of lighting, original music and minimal props enable Holland, at given points, to transcend into both the Laurel and Hardy characters we are more familiar with, depicting actual exchanges from their films and adding to the poignancy of it all. Humorous, revealing and enlightening, there are times it is difficult to remember it isn’t the real Stan Laurel on stage, the voice and mannerisms are so accurate. It’s clear to see how much attention to detail, care and affection has gone into this portrayal. I left the theatre with a burning desire to rush home and watch a Laurel and Hardy movie! Surely there can be no greater tribute than this, a truly remarkable achievement.
Mr Laurel premièred at Upstairs at the Gatehouse, London as part of The Camden Fringe on Wednesday 23rd August 2013, running for 4 days.