Pros: A heart-warming and laugh-out-loud funny journey back to the days of old-time variety entertainment.
Cons: Reflections on moments in this comedy duo’s career history could have done with more explanation.
Having grown up in Canada in the 1990s, Morecambe and Wise are a cultural reference of which I know, but have no experience. Going into this show with a completely blank slate, I can tell you, felt like regaining a little snippet of British history that I now feel very sorry to have missed.
A well-balanced combination of reflecting on the career, life and friendship of the famous British comedy duo and, re-producing their act and most favoured gags, the show seems to transport you back in time to when humour didn’t have to be at the cost of others and the simplest jokes were always the funniest.
We begin in Ernie’s hospital room after his heart attack, where he is visited from the beyond by a long-gone Eric. As they reminisce about their career and their lives together, we are privileged to witness bits of old gags from the real Morecambe and Wise’s work, including Grieg’s Piano Concerto.
Fleeting and juicy allusions made to their history as comedy partners, such as their appearance on the Ed Sullivan show in the US, would have been interesting to know more about, especially as it was implied that there was a bit of a story there. But this is not that type of show. Less concerned with story, it is more a gentle celebration of two of the most loved entertainers in British history acting, a reminder of how special they were. This is especially evident in the second act, when the audience is treated to Morecambe and Wise’s variety act from days of yore, complete with the paper bag trick, talking skull and singing and dancing to boot.
Ian Ashpitel as Ernie and Jonty Stephens as Eric are completely endearing, playing off each other well and portraying a touching friendship between the two men that clicked both on and off stage. From what I’m told, both Ashpitel and Stephens portray their subjects accurately, and additionally with great soul, respect and love – this is an ode rather than a robotic reproduction.
If, as a new comer to Morecambe and Wise, I found I was completely taken by the act, you can only imagine the response of true fans who were filling in the punchlines and practically rolling in the aisles as if they had been presented with the men themselves in flesh and blood.
Light, uplifting, touching and funny, this is one for Morecambe and Wise die-hards and those taken along for the ride.
Created by: Ian Ashpitel and Jonty Stephens
Also featuring material by: Eddie Braben, Dick Hills and Sid Green.
Directed by: Owen Lewis
Musical Director: Phil Innes
Booking until: 11 January 2015
Booking Link: http://www.stjamestheatre.co.uk/book-tickets/?event=20385
Box Office: 0844 264 2140