"If anyone at my funeral has a long face, I’ll never speak to him again.” It’s a famous Stan Laurel line, and it’s wheeled out with relish in Tom McGrath’s 1976 play Laurel & Hardy, which has been given a new production by the Watermill — perhaps inspired by the availability of two good actors who bear a more than a passing physical resemblance to the great men.

McGrath’s play doesn’t concentrate on recycling Laurel and Hardy’s comedy routines, although a few are included. Instead it charts their career history, and their relationship with each other, on and off screen. Laurel is first shown just before his 16th birthday, trying his luck at Glasgow’s Britannia Panopticon music hall (still in-tact, and fighting for restoration). Then it’s off to America, and a chance pairing with Oliver Hardy, when both signed contracts with producer Hal Roach.

McGrath uses Laurel and Hardy’s long relationship with Roach to point up the differences between their on and off screen personalities. On screen, Laurel is the dim-witted fall guy, forever put down and pushed aside by Hardy. Off screen, Laurel is shown as having the sharper financial brain: “It’s the funnies that bring in the monies,” he points out as he pushes for more advantageous contracts.

But maybe he went too far: the resultant break from Roach marked a steep decline in the duo’s fortunes. The final years provide the most moving moments in this production, thanks to director Paul Foster, Paul Bigley (Laurel), and Gavin Spokes (Hardy). But don’t get the impression that all is doom and gloom. It certainly isn’t: the wallpaper sketch, for instance, is already hilariously messy, and will surely get even funnier as Bigley and Spokes get used to working together. Excellent too is the atmospheric musical backing provided by pianist Richard Sisson.

Watermill, Newbury Until July 20 Tickets: 01635 46044