The Theatreguide.London Review
Vaudeville Theatre Winter 2013-2014; St James Theatre Winter 2014-2015
This modest but thoroughly entertaining salute to the legendary Morecambe and Wise should please fans who prefer to see someone imitating their heroes live onstage rather than watching the originals on TV.
Every Edinburgh Festival Fringe has at least one or two tributes to a beloved comedian of the past – a Tommy, Benny, Pete & Dud or even Stan & Ollie. Though they're all separate independent productions, I've come to think of them as the ongoing Dead Comic Chronicles.
This two-man version by and with Ian Ashpitel and Jonty Stephens, a hit in Edinburgh earlier this year, is one of the best of the genre.
(Quick fill-in for non-Brits: Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise were a comedy duo who had been together since childhood and reached their peak in a series of TV shows and Christmas specials in the 1970s. You might want to pause in reading this review to visit some of their classic routines on YouTube – start with Andre Previn.)
There's a standard format for these tribute shows that Ashpitel and Stephens follow – the comics are found in some situation that justifies reminiscences and then take us through their lives and careers, possibly slipping in some of their best bits.
Here Ernie, in hospital shortly before his death in 1999, is visited by the ghost of Eric, who died in 1984. They quickly circumvent any hints of the maudlin, entertaining themselves with memories and recreations of classic sketches (with credit to original writers Eddie Braben, Dick Hills and Sid Green).
Fans will know what I mean when I refer cryptically to the ice cream van, paper bag, Des O'Connor, wig join and Greig piano concerto, and the gags and routines are good enough that anyone hearing them for the first time will enjoy them.
Quite remarkably, Jonty Stephens does not look at all like Eric Morecambe until he puts on the eyeglasses, at which point the resemblance is not only overwhelming but Stephens channels Morecambe's comic genius better than any other impressionist.
Ian Ashpitel's Ernie is less uncanny, both in appearance and style, but serviceable, and one thing the two performers do capture perfectly is the chemistry and smooth interplay of the originals who could practically read each other's minds.
Personally, I have never quite seen the
point of Elvis impersonators and ABBA tribute bands, preferring
recordings and video clips of the originals to even the best imitators.
But if you want to see some very talented guys who are not Morecambe and Wise doing Morecambe and Wise material, this comes as close as you could wish to the real thing.
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Review - Eric and Little Ern - Vaudeville Theatre 2013