Edinburgh Fringe 2009
Brilliant celebration of Eric Morecambe, one of the most talented comedians the world has ever seen. Tim Whitnall’s endearing play is brought superbly to life by Bob Golding in this moving exposition.
It’s a dangerous game, trying to pay tribute to one of the most familiar faces ever to grace our TV screens over the last 50 years. Do you aim for an impression of that person, or go the whole hog and impersonate them? Bob Golding went for the latter, big time. And succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. He walked on stage, he moved his head, he fiddled with his glasses and there was only one person it could be. Then he spoke and it was almost as if Eric himself was there. The gags started to flow and we were transported back in time to John Eric Bartholomew in his stage infancy.
But this was more than just an opportunity to hear a few tried and trusted gags. We got the whole Morecambe life story, with Bob Golding playing all the parts. The versatility of this man’s voice and persona were quite breathtaking. Switching effortlessly from Lou Grade to Eric’s mother, Sadie, a bit of Eric’s father, George, and then onto Jack Hylton, back into Eric for a brief gag and then off into another perfect imitation of Ernie Wise, in this case represented by the dummy Eric often used in his “ventriloquist” act on stage. The movements, twitching of the eyebrows, smoking the pipe, slapping the back of his neck were eerily like the great man himself.
Those famous throw-away Morecambe remarks, “Arsenal”, “can we say that here?”, “what d’you think of it so far?” made it feel like you were watching his face on that little box in the corner of your front room. The portrayal of the duo’s struggle to get regular work, their appearances in variety, followed by that initial and somewhat unsuccessful break into TV and their strength to overcome that rebuff and return to make that medium their own. We all knew Morecambe and Wise – 28 million of us watched their Christmas Show in 1977, and I can still remember it.
This piece was about Morecambe but succeeds in being about Wise as well. The sympathetic portrayal of Ernie, his role in the partnership, his generosity towards Eric when the latter had the first of his series of heart attacks in the late 1960’s and, above all, his loyalty to his pal was movingly conveyed.
The final tragic moments of Eric’s all too short existence bring down the final curtain. But Eric cannot resist one last gag – as the ambulance siren wails into the distance, he quips “he’ll never sell any ice-creams going at that speed”. And with that he passes from us, replete in white from head to toe, on his way to entertain those folks already up in the gods.
To a body (able and otherwise) the sell-out audience rose to their feet to applaud a truly inspirational piece of entertainment. If you retain fond memories of Morecambe and Wise, as so many obviously still do, then whatever else you are doing, stop it now and go and see this show. It runs until 31 August and you may well see me there again, and again. It was that good.