Sons of the Desert
Royal Court, Liverpool
September 27 – October 26
Director: Ken Alexander
Producer: Royal Court
Set Design: Mark Walters
Cast: Michael Starke, Roy Brandon, Lori Hayley –Fox, Matt Connor, Jonathan Markwood, Penelope Woodman.
Running Time: 2 hrs 15 mins
It is a bold undertaking to stage one of the most iconic short movies of the twentieth century featuring two true legends of comedy at the top of their game. It is also brave to attempt to instil in a twenty-first century audience the ideals of 1920’sw vaudeville prior to the main event.
So do the Royal Court succeed? Well, for the most part yes, and particularly by not “re-writing” the Sons of the Desert, the re-enactment of which takes up the entire second act, and so allows the cast to fully explore the dynamics of their characters, the beautifully crafted script and the magnificent set that has been created to provide the ambience necessary.
Less successful s the variety section that fills Act I, and this despite the efforts of those on stage. Jonathan Markwood works hard as compere Frankie Fella – a direct spin on Eric Morcambe - and Lori Hayley –Fox is excellent as baton twirling, California Here I Come singing Loretta Lombardi. Superb too is the chirpy chimney sweep who stumbles upon the show and nearly steals events from under the noses of Michael Starke’s Oliver Hardy and Roy Brandon’s Stan Laurel, who appear to present On The Trail of the Lonesome Pine and the carpenters routine from Busy Bodies with great aplomb.
Yet despite this, Act I feels a little flat and all a bit “force-fed” with jollity that takes a little getting over. Mind, there’s always the interval bar and Act II is more than worth waiting for as Starke and Brandon really come into their own as the two buffoons who lie to their domineering wives – here portrayed incredibly well by Lori Hayley–Fox and, as Betty Laurel, Penelope Woodman.
Not only is every nuance of old incorporated by those involved – and accentuated brilliantly by clips of the original movie – but it is here that the dynamism of the set really comes into its own, adding another layer of farce that is already neck deep so subtly and so seamlessly on occasion it as though the furniture and eaves of the respective houses have been cast as characters in their own right.
What audiences are almost guaranteed from the night is an evening of harmless, farcical joyous reminisce that will have those in the auditorium chuckling all the way home.