Caro Meets Dance & Physical Interview Theatre Interview

Danielle Bird: Charlie & Stan

By | Published on Monday 16 January 2023

It’s not the first time Told By An Idiot’s ‘Charlie & Stan’ has been performed at Wilton’s Music Hall, but we are very glad to see it return to that venue as part of the rather excellent London International Mime Festival. 

We know a bit about the piece already, having spoken to the company’s Paul Hunter about it on a previous occasion, but we were still eager to find out more from one of the stars of the show, Danielle Bird, who is playing Charlie in the upcoming London dates and on a tour.  

CM: I suppose they don’t and won’t need much introduction for most of our readers – but just in case – can you tell us who Charlie and Stan are? 
DB: Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel are super stars from the silent movie era, famous for slapstick routines and comedy gags.

They both started their training and careers in music hall sketch shows and theatre before making it big in motion pictures. Stan went on to form the iconic comedy duo with Oliver Hardy. 

CM: Can you tell us about the period in their lives this production is concerned with? 
DB: This production focuses on the time when Stan Laurel was Charlie Chaplin’s understudy in Fred Karno’s troupe of comedians, clowns and performers who were put through their paces in various disciplines.

The show starts in 1910 when Charlie and Stan embark on the voyage to New York from Southampton to pursue their careers.

This setting is the springboard into flashbacks, flash forwards and our imagination exploring the double act that nearly was. 

CM: What themes would you say are addressed through the show? 
DB: Fantasy, the art of creation, love, companionship, nostalgia, survival, power and humour. 

CM: Can you tell us about your role in the proceedings and why you were attracted to it?
DB: I’m playing Charlie Chaplin. I hadn’t worked with the company before, but had heard great things, so was excited to join the team.

Playing an icon is one of the most challenging physical and physiological undertakings, which I thought would push me in a really useful way. 

CM: Can you tell us a bit about the rest of the cast and creative team? 
DB: Jerone Marsh-Reid, who plays Stan, is a wonderful physical performer, and Nick Haverson is such a classic clown playing Karno, the butler, dad and the drums.

The whole show is underscored by Sara Alexander on piano, bringing that silent movie style to life and to the theatre. She also plays Charlie Chaplin’s mum. 

Our Director Paul Hunter is Artistic Director of the company Told By An Idiot, which is celebrating its 30th birthday this year.

Going out on the road with us we have our Deputy Stage Manager Carol Pestridge, Assistant Stage Manager Harri Winstanley and our Technical Stage Manager Ben Sedgwick.

The team goes on and on with our various designers, producers, marketing departments, etc, all working towards getting the show up and running! 

CM: How does touring a show compare to staying in one spot? Do you enjoy getting to different parts of the country? 
DB: I guess for an actor there is definitely different planning, organisation and energy required when touring compared to staying in one place.

However, you get the joy of different reactions and audience personalities across the country as the show moves around, as well as trying to squeeze in some local sightseeing, although with a physical show like this I may opt for a swim or maybe a cheeky lie in. 

CM: Can you tell us a bit about yourself now? How did you end up working in the arts? Was it what you always wanted to do? 
DB: I’m originally from South Wales and was always keen at school to get involved in the productions, choirs and concerts whilst doing my GCSEs.

Going back just a few generations, my family were coal miners in Wales, but I’d say they are all true storytellers and entertainers.

I’m sure my nan, who used to roll up the carpet runner to tap dance in the kitchen for me and my sister’s amusement, would have been in show business if the opportunity presented itself, rather than working in the shoe shop in Caerphilly.

My dad is a carpenter by trade but I grew up watching him sing and play bass in a band, which provided a role model in entertaining an audience. 

I auditioned for the National Youth Theatre and seized the chance to attend a summer course after organising a concert in my local village hall to raise the funds required.

I discovered that acting was a career I wanted to pursue. I sought out information on how to get to drama school and luckily got a scholarship to Mountview Academy on the acting course alongside my identical twin sister. 

CM: What have been the highlights of your career thus far? 
DB: There are so many highlights working in this industry and over the thirteen years of my career so far there’s such a variety!

Often when asked this question I feel there is an expectation to list the most impressive credit you feel you may have. However, highlights along the way include meeting individual audience members that I will always remember; or great friends I’ve made that I’m lucky to have in my life.

Or a magic one-off creation in a rehearsal room that made me belly laugh till I felt sick; or a venue that’s blown me away; or an open air theatre where suddenly I’m improvising a scene with a squirrel; or the day I realised that a famous actor I’ve admired for years is now playing my dad in an exciting film. 

But maybe a top highlight was when, during a relaxed performance, a non-verbal child communicated with me during an audience participation moment that moved their parents to tears. 

CM: What aims and ambitions do you have for the future? 
DB: I’ve been very lucky to be a jobbing theatre actor, so I suppose an ambition would be to venture into more TV and film.

Camera work is a very different discipline and I’d love to be in a period drama or fantasy series. So big budget Hollywood then by the sounds of it. But having said that, I really admire the reputation of British comedy series, so why not slot me into one of those next…?

When I was at drama school we were asked to write down our top five job ambitions, and 21 year old Dani said the RSC, the Globe, a Mike Leigh film, a period drama film and the Royal Court.

I’ve proudly ticked off three, so here’s keeping my fingers crossed for a new Jane Austen movie as well as a call from Amy Ball at the Court.

In the immediate future, an aim is to bring back ‘Pretty Sh*tty Love’ – a show I did last summer with Theatre Clwyd, directed by Francesca Goodridge – as it feels so vital to bring awareness to its themes, and to honour the memory of Stacey Gwilliam, whose experiences the play is based on. 

CM: What’s coming up next for you after this?
DB: I’m excited to meet some new writers and directors this year and see what happens.

In the meantime there was a cancelled production I was supposed to work on in lockdown that may be back on the agenda, as well as a revival of another play potentially in the summer, but it’s all up for grabs right now. How exciting!

Aside from work though, I’d also love a holiday with my boyfriend and to get some time to catch up with my friends.

‘Charlie & Stan’ is on at Wilton’s Music Hall from 18 Jan-4 Feb as part of the London International Mime Festival, before touring to Colchester, York, Southampton and Derby. Book your tickets for the London dates here and see the rest of the tour dates here

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