Eric and Ernie’s are big shoes to fill, the iconic double act having shared a hugely successful career spanning three decades leading them to fondly be thought of as the nation’s pride.
Up to the challenge are Jonty Stephens (Eric Morecambe) and Ian Ashpitel (Ernie Wise) who live up to their legacy in Eric and Little Ern at St James Theatre. But this is more than just an impersonation, though an excellent one at that. It begins retrospectively with Ernie on his deathbed being visited by Eric, an apparition surely, as he died of a heart attack fifteen years earlier!
Almost immediately from the second Stephens pushes those trademark specs up his nose and captures perfectly that humourous squint, we are there with the real Morecambe and Wise of yesterday.
Both actors encompass the stars to a tee; the mannerisms, the voices, even their quite precise inflections as Ernie is continually exasperated and Eric incessantly cracks up at his own jokes! The comedy is as quick witted and sharp as back then. When Ernie wants to present his new writing, ‘I want to show you a small passage.’, Eric retorts without a moment’s hesitation ‘That’s what they all say.’ The visual gags are equally hilarious featuring a comedy horn, football rattle not forgetting Ernie’s wig seeming to have a life of its own.
A much loved bed scene is re-enacted as well as the famous Grieg’s piano concerto. ‘What would you say to the London symphony orchestra?!’ asks Ernie excitedly, ‘Hello sir, have you seen my sister?’, Why would you say that?!’ , ‘Because the last time I saw her, she was on the bus.’ Brilliant. Funny as it is, it is also touching as Eric and Ern nostalgically long for the old days, remembering how they got together, how they could be competitive and how frustratingly Eric garnered much of the praise, with Ernie regarded as less integral as ‘the straight guy’.
Movingly it conveys their friendship, and how lost one felt without the other. The first half comes to a poignant close, as Eric leads Ernie to the other side…of the curtain that is ‘C’mon, we’re on!’ Ernie then welcomes us in the second half to the Morecambe and Wise Show, staged before the famous red curtain. What follows are seemingly improvised sketches and gags, jokes about Des O’Connor of course, and some delightful and hilarious dance routines.
One wants to list all of the jokes one by one (and maybe take the credit) but it couldn’t do it justice.
Stephens and Ashpitel are utterly convincing and enjoyable in this two man show, combining both old and original material. Bring sunshine, it does. Bring laughter, MOST definitely.