This show was featured in a BBC News feature the other day, asking why nostalgia shows like this one are so popular just now. One theory is that we want to hark back to our childhood and what we think were more innocent times. Well, yes, but maybe it’s also because comedians like Morecambe and Wise are still hilarious and make us laugh and that is something we all need. Their humour was based heavily on their variety act and involved a lot of visuals and slapstick and it’s a type of humour that doesn’t date as much as some of today’s more topical and political stuff. Apart from a few references to Lew Grade, their material remains pretty universal.
The two actors, Jonty Stephens playing Eric and Ian Ashpitel playing Ern, are brilliant – they not only look and sound like them but they have also totally captured the spirit and essence of the much loved comedy duo. Within minutes of the show starting you actually start to think you are watching the real thing and you are carried along on a wave of warmth and affection. When midway through the show the famous red velvet curtain appears across the stage and the two embark upon their comedy routine, you feel that this must have been what it felt like to see them live and what a treat that was.
It begins with Ernie lying on his hospital bed, 15 years after Eric’s death from his third heart attack at the age of 58. Ernie, too, is dying and Eric has come back to reminisce with him and resurrect their comedy partnership one last time. Eric is dressed in a doctor’s white coat and is reading Ern’s medical notes intently, he adjusts his glasses, shakes his head gravely, adjusts the glasses again and then…turns the notes the right way round. He sounds Ern’s chest with his stethoscope, can’t find a heartbeat, starts panicking and then…puts the stethoscope in his ears.
Just a couple of simple things but done in Eric’s inimitable way and the audience is already in stitches. All the old familiar routines and gags are here – Ern’s short fat hairy legs and his awful plays, the slapping dance, the paper bag routine, everything you remember which made them the hottest act on TV for many years. We don’t learn much more than I’m sure we already know about Morecambe and Wise, their enduring and close personal and professional relationship but what we do find from this show is a wonderful opportunity to hear again from what seem like old friends and most importantly to rediscover how funny they both were.