Morecambe in the West End

Note: This review is from 2009

Review by Steve Bennett

You’ll excuse me if I use some of the same lines to describe the West End version of Morecambe as I did when it was an Edinburgh hit back in the summer. After all, this affectionate biography is a show that thrives so much on old jokes that even a glimpse of a brown paper bag has the audience giggling in anticipation of one of Eric’s most famous visual gags.

On nostalgia value alone, the show is likely to run and run. Eric Morecambe is an icon of a halcyon era of cheery civility that probably never really existed, yet is still remembered with the sort of fondness that will keep the box office busy, never mind the quality of the production.

It’s a relief, then, that it turns out to be a wonderful night out, with Eric’s straightforward biography brought to life through effective but subtle theatrical flourishes.

In a star-making performance, the excellent Bob Golding has Eric down to a T, Ern – not so much in looks but in personality; radiating out such an intense warmth that every line, however corny, is filled with joy. He’s upbeat through the slog of the early years, climbing up variety bills, staying in flea-ridden guest houses, making a potentially career-killing TV debut, and being knocked back by America, recounting each setback with a cheeky glint in his eye.

The act seems to have survived through a combination of Morecambe’s charisma and Ernie Wise’s determination, and the strength of their relationship is certainly on display here, even if poor Ern is reduced to a ventriloquist’s dummy. But it’s testament to Golding’s skill that this lump of wood has more personality than a lot of human West End stars, even though he’s no ventriloquist.

Golding similarly slips into all manner of names from variety’s golden age, from agent Billy Marsh to a sublime Bruce Forsyth. The opening night showbuisiness crowd seemed to recognise a lot more of the backstage figures than I did, but the mini-characterisations are effective on their own, making it seem very crowded for a one-man show.

But it’s Eric Morecambe everyone wants to see, and it’s him that we pretty much get. Tim Whitnall’s script borrows heavily from the Morecambe and Wise shows’ best-remembered lines, while cracking through the history, so the relative lack of drama in Morecambe’s life – save for the heart problems that ended it – isn’t the narrative problem it could have been; while Guy Masterson’s assured direction keeps the homage bouncing along.

That’s all it is, a homage, so don’t go expecting anything weightier. But Golding’s captures Eric’s child-like qualities so exquisitely – especially that silliness and an over-eagerness to please – that this is the closest you’ll get to seeing one of the greatest of the comedy greats live. The standing ovation was well deserved for Golding’s virtuoso performance, but much of it was surely directed at a much-missed idol, too.

Review date: 11 Dec 2009
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Duchess Theatre

What do you think?

We see you are using AdBlocker software. Chortle relies on advertisers to fund this website so it’s free for you, so we would ask that you disable it for this site. Our ads are non-intrusive and relevant. Help keep Chortle viable.