Eric & Ern was at the Festival Theatre Edinburgh tonight for one date only, and that was an all too brief a visit as this faithful homage by Ian Ashpitel & Jonty Stephens to the now iconic comedy duo, Morecambe and Wise, brought back so many good memories to the audience tonight.
The original Morecambe and Wise team of course need no introduction to anyone who watched British television in the 1960s and 1970s and their television shows for the BBC (and later ITV) are now the stuff of British television comedy legend, with their Christmas specials regularly getting huge audience viewing figures (some around 20 million viewers). The television shows were of course only part of the story with the partnership of Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise going back to the heyday of British Variety Theatre and lasting from 1941 to Eric’s death in 1984 (Ernie died in 1999).
Although obviously developed further for its current format, this show owes much of its success to a very well received run at the 2014 Edinburgh Fringe, and somehow the show still manages to retain that “Fringe” feel to it, and I mean that in the best of terms.
It is obvious that Ian Ashpitel & Jonty Stephens share a huge love of Morecambe and Wise and their work, and so many of the iconic one liners and comedy sketches are in this show, including Grieg’s Piano concerto, Mr Memory, and the paper bag trick, that many of the audience know what is coming next, and that shared experience of these “classics” makes this show a little special. There is also the famous television living room couch and that double bed that the duo shared together. Why they shared a bed together was never explained, but I always took it as their homage to another great comedy duo who often did the same thing - Laurel and Hardy. There was a special musical guest appearance too, from singer Sinead Wall. The show of course also has to include some of the duo’s famous musical numbers, and “Bring Me Sunshine” is their signature tune that so many people in the audience still remembered every word of tonight.
This show is pure nostalgia, and you do have to know who some of the people that ran through jokes in their shows from this period are – Des O’Connor being the main person of course. The comedy of this show is very much of its time, and lovingly recreated by Ian Ashpitel & Jonty Stephens, and although there are many subtle and not so subtle innuendos here, the strict broadcasting rules of the time meant that our duo and their writers could never use bad language or be sexually explicit in their humour. Even if they could have, that was not the humour of Morecambe and Wise. Like this show, that was pure family entertainment for everyone.
I have to admit to always being pretty neutral to Morecambe & Wise and their style of comedy, but I do recognise them as masters of their art form who not only entertained many millions of people over their 40 plus years together as a duo, but also as entertainers who secured a very special place in the hearts of the British public. They, of course, also inspired so many comedians who were to come after them, and Ian Ashpitel & Jonty Stephens are, with perfect comedy timing, living proof that their legacy lives on, and will probably live on as long as new generations of people re-discover their archive material and new generations of comedians inspired by that discovery take to the stage and screen.
Review by Tom King (c) 2021
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