Eric and Little Ern - 17 December 2014 Review
Morecambe and Wise reborn!Eric and Little Ern at the St James Theatre pays homage to Britain’s most treasured of comedy duos, Morecambe and Wise. Creators and performers of the show, Ian Ashpitel and Jonty Stephens, have fused well known sketches with new material of their own to create an original production that has most of the audience in stitches.
This may sound like a cheesy impersonation but it’s a little bit cleverer than that. The opening scene looks like an Eric and Ernie sketch; Ern is asleep in a hospital bed when Eric comes in dressed as a doctor to play tricks on his sleeping friend. There’s even an ‘on air’ sign blinking away to mimic their TV show. But it soon emerges that Ern is dying – this is the private hospital room in Slough where Ernie Wise passed away in 1999, 15 years after his partner. Eric has come back to tell the old jokes with Ern during his final hours and persuade him to perform one last time.
I found this first half a bit cringey and predictable once you understood the premise - I was waiting for the sketches to begin properly instead of hearing to constant references about past jokes. Having said that, I thought they got the balance between melancholy and celebration just about perfect.
It’s near impossible to recreate the relationship that Eric and Ernie had; they worked together for 43 years until Eric’s death in 1984. But Jonty (Eric) and Ian (Ern) come extremely close to getting them spot on. They shine in the second half, which mimics the ‘infront of the curtain’ sketches they did on their TV show. Everything from their accents to their distinct mannerisms is extremely well considered – especially Eric’s cheeky laugh which follows his own jokes. Ian Ashpitel also makes a wonderfully downtrodden Ern who tries to cope with Eric’s boundless enthusiasm.
They perform some of the classic sketches very well, especially their version of the Grieg’s piano sketch and the legendary paper bag gag. Despite the performers’ talents, I think the comedy is aimed very specifically at a certain group of people. It’s meant to be silly and mischievous but I think a younger audience might find it all a bit twee.
This is a generous and thoughtful tribute to two comedy greats if you’re already a fan of Morecambe and Wise. If you didn’t catch them live in their heyday this is definitely the next best thing, but don’t expect to be crying with laughter if they don’t have a firm place in your heart.
Written by Victoria Taylor
17 December 2014, St James Theatre