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Eric And Little Ern

Review by Corry Shaw

Using other performer’s material is normally viewed as a cardinal sin, but Ian Ashpitel and Jonty Stephens have taken matters to a whole other level with this touching and nostalgic celebration of Morecambe and Wise.

Not only do we get to relive some of the beloved duo’s finest moments, but we get to do so in the hands of two very fine actors – and uncanny lookalikes – who have clearly studied every nuance of the performances to replicate them on stage.  This is not just a Morecambe and Wise tribute act by rote, so complete is Ashpitel and Stephens understanding of the characters that new writing blends in with old classics and we are left with a completely unique chance to see Eric and Ernie live on.

It's very much a show of two halves. A very theatrical first half opens as a play with Little Ern (Ashpitel) in his hospital bed being visited by the memory of his old partner. For some who grew up knowing Morecambe and Wise (or for those who saw the recent Victoria Wood biopic) this section will feel familiar, as it clearly serves to introduce the characters and explain their history and status in UK comedy.  For the most part it is written and performed with a deftness of touch, but there are moments where it feels as if jokes are being crowbarred into a CV.

That said, it is a clever and sympathetic way to explain not only who the comedians were and why they were so loved, but also to show the depth of the relationship between the two men.  Eric climbs into Ern’s hospital bed in the same unexplained, innocent way they shared a bed on screen. Then they banter and tease with little Ern always coming off the worst, as he always did. It is a touching reminder of not only simpler times but simpler comedy – and it is beautiful.

From the hospital ward a change of set an pace, takes us to one last Morecambe and Wise show. The pair burst onto stage in front of a velvet red curtain and launch into variety at its best. It's a step back in time to Christmas specials and Saturday night telly and Ashpitel and Stephens pitch it just right.  Stephens, especially, has mastered the physicality, and each shoulder shrug, each nudge of the glasses is effortless and natural and eerily exacting.

A trick may have been missed this Fringe. Morecambe and Wise were hugely famous for their special guests on their shows – and it would have been interesting to see some of the other Fringe names making an appearance in one of Little Ern’s plays. Although that may have been stepping into the territory of the previous West End tribute, The Play What I Wrote.

That aside, this is a beautifully balanced, brilliantly acted and incredibly moving piece which shows due respect and love to the men it honours.

Review date: 30 Aug 2014
Reviewed by: Corry Shaw

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