Jeffrey Holland is finally living the dream.
And in fulfilling the ambition he has held since childhood, he delivers a true tour de force.
The former Hi-de-Hi star makes us laugh, makes us think, and very nearly makes us cry as he opens the book on the complex life of a comedy genius in this one-man show staged for the Portsmouth Festivities.
Holland’s realisation of his long-planned portrayal of the wonderful Stan Laurel is captivating. We join Laurel as a 66-year-old man in the bedroom of Oliver Hardy, chatting to his dying comedy partner.
Holland is in fact babbling on to an empty bed frame, which with a fold-up chair and a Derby hat are the only props on stage. But we believe we are watching a final one-sided exchange between the old pals, thanks to Holland’s devoted homage to the ‘little lad from Lancashire’ who grew up to make millions laugh, and thanks too to the skill of writer Gail Louw, who captures the doubts, frailties, yet ever-bubbling optimism that shaped Laurel, the driving force behind surely the greatest comedy double act.
Holland delivers the ‘real Stan’ to a tee, and brings us as well the on-stage persona not only of Stan but of Ollie as well. In doing so, he demonstrates the difference between the off-screen real-life worldly-wise Laurel and the gormlessly hilarious character he developed for the cameras.
(Oh that a comedian of today could deliver deadpan a line such as: ‘You can lead a horse to water but a pencil must be lead!’)
In the intimate atmosphere of the studio theatre on the Kings stage - on the same boards that the great stars trod in a performance in 1947 - he holds his audience spellbound. A great show, and a great tribute lovingly delivered.