Unfortunately, I suspect many readers of A Younger Theatre, like I, will never have got to experience the comic genius of Morecambe and Wise at the height of their career, and are only able to relive their infamous sketches through re-runs on Christmas Day. However, there is a new show in town which brings Eric and Ernie straight back to the forefront of people’s minds.
Hailing from its sell-out season at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Eric and Little Ern is currently playing the Vaudeville Theatre – and I suspect if the press night audience’s reception is anything to go by, it could do well to stay there for longer than its current planned two-month run, after its UK tour.
The first act focuses on the more biographical side of things: Ernie (Ian Ashpitel) is in hospital and finds himself face-to-face with his old partner Eric in a dream-like state. From the off, Jonty Stephens as Eric plays a blinder, messing with the patient’s notes – the audience is in hysterics before either actor has uttered a word.
Bearing an incredibly uncanny resemblance to the famous duo, and with all their habits and mannerisms down to a T, famous gags quickly reappear as Eric encourages Ernie to reflect on their act. Favourite lines include looking out of the window at the sound of a police siren, and uttering: “He won’t sell much ice-cream at that speed”.
With the audience firmly in the palms of their hand by the end of Act One, Act Two brings the focus back on everything the audience loves about Morecambe and Wise – the sketches. For the older members of the audience it becomes a trip down memory lane, and for the younger audience, like the teenage boy beside me, it is a showcase of just how brilliant their act was.
For all its hilarity and uproar, the show has some tender moments, such as Eric reflecting: “I don’t know what I would’ve done if I’d lost you, Ern”; but even then the moment is blissfully brought back to comedy. “Bought a hamster, probably”, he replies.
The 90 minute two-hander has just about enough pizazz and exchange, and is not short of their brilliant gags including the stone-in-the-paper-bag routine, the ‘Grieg’s Piano Concerto’ sketch and the various digs at Des ‘Desperate’ O’Connor. Of course, the evening is lovingly topped off with a round of ‘Bring Me Sunshine’, without which the production wouldn’t be complete.
It’s a gem of a show that fans of the super duo will love, but it’s also a stark reminder of just how much laughter they brought to English audiences, and how big a rift they left in the comedy world. It’s part tribute and part mourning: but what really struck me is that some of the younger generation will know nothing of their act. I only hope this review can encourage young people to embrace the hilarity of the remarkable Morecambe and Wise.
Eric and Little Ern is playing at the Vaudeville Theatre until 12 Jan 2014. For more information and tickets, see the Nimax Theatres website.