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Laurel & Hardy back in Northampton?
Royal & Derngate (Northampton)
Member Name: thedevilinme
Royal & Derngate (Northampton)
Advantages: Intimate stage spaces
Disadvantages: We want the big shows!
I haven't been to the theatre for quite a while now, especially in Northampton, but when Laurel & Hardy came to town I couldn't resist. The last time they were here was in 1953 (no I wasn't there to see it!) for a road safety campaign, an old and treasured black & white photo showing them holding a lollipop stick at the bottom of the towns Bridge Street, displayed in the Royal & Derngate reception area. I'm a big fan of these two.
Their return to my hometown was in the form of an enjoyable ghostly stage show, recreating their back-story on the intimate stage of the Royal Theatre, the smaller half of Northampton's premier entertainment complex, actors Ben Foster (Stan Laurel) and Chris Patterson (Hardy) playing the loveable duo, Writer and Stan & Ollie historian Tom McGrath dragging exhaustive performances from his two impressive actors. With tickets averaging around £16 for the two hour performances and the venue far from sold out and very cozy, you don't turn down a decent show when it comes to town. Few decent shows come to town.
When the Derngate stood alone in its own right it tended to attract middle of the road acts that were on their way down the ladder, living off their name with nostalgia shows, or up and coming talent like young comics and actors. Those tedious jazz and classical music orchestras fill in the gaps on the tired calendar. They still stage big productions like opera and musicals here - Blood Brothers coming to town next week for ten days. But what they can't seem to do is attract the big shows, the Derren browns and Peter Kay's...rarely drifting this far east and local. We do get friendly comics like Paul Merton and Alan Davies, but they tend to sell out fast to a desperate Northampton audience looking for London entertainment.
A recent renovation has seen £70 million pounds of council and private money spent on merging the two theatres, the more modern Derngate and the more traditional and intimate Royal Theatre forced to hold hands, which seemed to involve knocking a couple of walls through as both theatres look the same to me. Sadly the council's commitment to performers like Jack Jones and Leo Sayer, getting a slightly bigger dressing room after the refit, has meant funding has had to be slashed in other areas of our entertainment budget, the towns venues for young people now constantly under threat, the 'Soundhouse' closing down this week and the reasonably well known Roadmender club, to follow pretty soon. Its a big blow for the town's young Indie college kids and with the Derngate only putting on tribute type bands for middle-aged rockers the place is beginning to become a bit of a backwater as far as alternative entertainment goes.
The Royal Theatre bit...
My show was in the small provincial theatre, about 700 seats, two tears and some intimate boxes hugging the sides of the Victorian styled walls. You have seen a million theatres like this and exactly the type of place Laurel & Hardy would have cut their teeth in - and indeed a venue similar to that which Stanley Jefferson's (changed to Laurel) dad managed, where Stan got his big break.
With tickets priced between £10 (behind small support pillars) to £26 for the stalls (the upper tear and boxes were not open during the ten day run due to poor ticket sales), the show runs from May 20th to May 31st . Our Thursday night show managed 70 odd punters, although we were well supportive with our applause to the actor's incredibly accurate physical caricatures of comedies greatest double act. Patterson looked just like Ollie and sounded like Ollie (weight wise too), and even though Foster wasn't Laurel to a tee, his impressive acting talent shone through (a recent appearance in Tim Burtons Sweeney Todd on his CV) and he was strong on screen, especially good when he switched between his on screen and off screen Stan Laurel. As the play was all about the behind the scenes story of the pair it was critical he nailed it. Both actors were fantastic and had put a lot of work into their show. I did feel McGrath's writing wasn't quite as strong though.
As I said before my theatre going hasn't been busy of late and so I took my time to get into the show. Being big Laurel & Hardy fan for years I picked up on the in-jokes although the audience was surprisingly not laced with aficionados...no signature Bolar hats blocking peoples views... although their one or two gentleman of Oliver Norville Hardys girth in the small crowd.
Blocked into two, one hour sessions, the show took its time to get going, although once the silent part of their career was dealt with in this autobiographical performance, the actors settled into their amazing imitations and delivered a confident show that was packed with humor and pathos. I think, perhaps, they could have done with a little more content for fans with more familiar comic lines from the movies to get the audience chuckling and involved, but on the whole we left the theater feeling entertained and somewhat enlightened on the relationship between the boys off screen, Hardy the party animal and one for the ladies, Stan always looking to drive the act on with his writing and wanting to get control of the profits from studio boss Hal Roach, a contentious part of the story. If the boys had signed a joint contract with Roach Studios back then they may have made more money (helping to feed Ollie's atrocious betting habits) and had more control over the stuff they wanted to do but when they did finally get their own way it all fell apart. In may ways the biopic on stage mirrored the lives of Laurel & Hardy, two guys having to play tiny provincial theatres until they made it big, which I'm sure Patterson and Foster will surely do.
The Derngate bit...
With twice the capacity of the Royal Theatre it houses the big productions and shows, no problems fitting in opera and musicals for log runs. It once housed the world snooker doubles and with its moveable seating and centre stage flexibility you can pack 1500 in. There are plenty of boxes that work out at around a tenner per person if you squeeze your mate sin and with plenty of bars and cafes for the intervals it's a good place to see a show. The acoustics are not the best but this is Northampton.
Not the greatest but does the job. You can prebook there as you would expect with ease and personally book the seat you require by using the interactive section that shows all the seats that are available and sold. A good tip with any of these websites for theatres etc is the competitions. If a show isn't selling well-perhaps an over optimistic number of shows on the run-as was the case with Laurel & Hardy-its well worth entering to try and win free tickets. I won two straight off the bat because I twigged they wanted to fill out the venues with complimentary tickets and so we had four for the show (two paid), and as the theatre wasn't packed I could get them clustered up. If you live in and around Northampton and want to see the enjoyable L& H show then email the competition on the website (a few times if you're smart enough) and I fancy your chances of winning. The show would make great present for relatives, friends and even kids with the slapstick on show.
Summary: Local theatre...
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