Stan by Neil Brand

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Stan by Neil Brand (2004). Dir. Ned Chaillet. Perf. Tom Courtenay. BBC Radio 4 Extra, 20 Feb. 2015. BBCiPlayer to 22 Mar. 2015.

Stan Laurel (Tom Courtenay) visits the dying Oliver Hardy (Ewan Bailey) for one last time. Rendered speechless by a stroke, Hardy cannot communicate, leaving Stan to do most of the talking. He looks over the duo's long career; their successes and failures, their off-stage as well as their onstage selves, and talks of how bereft he will be once Hardy has passed away. Yet despite all his attempts to communicate, Laurel cannot understand what Hardy wants, as he keeps pointing to his throat. Does he want food, or water, or is there something else he wants to say before he breathes his dying breath?

Ned Chaillet's production vividly captured Laurel's pain, as he realizes that there will never be any more routines for the comedy legends to perform. They might have been invited to go on television, but Hardy's illness is just too far advanced. As he speaks, Laurel looks back over their time together; focusing in particular on Hardy's offscreen persona. Despite his apparent confidence, Hardy was ashamed of his bulk; he would love to have been thinner. He was also quite shy: when the two of them toured Britain in 1948, Hardy spent a lot of time on his own. We also hear about Laurel's early years, and how he came to the United States as part of Fred Karno's troupe with a young hopeful named Charlie Chaplin. Laurel was never as talented as his illustrious British counterpart, but he nonetheless found fame when Hal Roach paired him off with Hardy.

Perhaps the production's most moving moment came when Laurel recalled the experiences of working on "Way out West" (1939), the film that marked the apotheosis of their careers. Everything appeared to be going wrong offscreen, with both Laurel and Hardy's spouses suing for divorce. Yet the film gave them their happiest moments, especially with their little song "The Trail of the Lonesome Pine." As Laurel sang it once more, Hardy joined in with a high-pitched croon, proving beyond doubt that despite the effects of his stroke, he still had the capacity to think and respond.

"Stan" not only reminded us of how much pleasure the duo gave to audiences worldwide, but showed us how close the two of them were, both professionally and emotionally. Once Hardy passed away, there was little for Laurel to do other than await his own death.