ERIC AND LITTLE ERN – Vaudeville, WC2

BRINGING BACK THE SUNSHINE 

“Are you going to read your newspaper or annoy me?”  asks Ern, trying to concentrate on his bedtime reading.   “I can do both!”  replies Eric confidently, a 6ft,  bald, black-spectacled eternal six-year-old:  charming , enraging and unforgettable.   Behind me a woman’s voice gasps in mirth “Just like my husband!” .  Moments later,  Eric wanders to the window and hears a police siren,  and suddenly most of the audience are laughing before he can say  “He’s not going to sell much ice cream going at that speed”.   This ninety-minute evening often feels less like a show than a ritual of remembrance, gentle mourning and solidarity.

There have been other Morecambe and Wise tribute acts,  recently a tremendous performance by Bob Golding as Eric alone.  For me that threatened  to overshadow this  affectionate re-creation by  Jonty Stephens and Ian Ashpitel.    But their focus is  the relationship between the pair over 43 years, first in variety  then  in TV shows  – at their peak written by Eddie Braben –   of an innocent brilliance whose closest modern equivalent is probably Miranda (and even that is less innocent.)

The first act, though studded with jokes from the Braben years and a daft old vaudeville klaxon gag or two, is dramatized, and works about 70 per cent of the time.   Ernie is in a hospital bed, nearing his own last heart attack in 1999 when the shade of Eric,  dead fourteen years, turns up at his bedside messing about in a white coat  (much serious tutting over the clipboard, culminating in turning it the right way up).  He gradually rouses Ernie to remember routines.    Stephens captures the restless funny-bones of the taller man  and Ashpitel the wounded self-image of Ernie: both convince after a while.  Poignant moments deflate just in time (“I don’t know what I’d have done if I’d lost you, Ern” says Eric. Then thoughtfully “Bought a hamster, probably”.    The gags endure, diamond-bright.  Some are sublime and perennial,  like Morecambe’s wounded “I was playing the right notes. Not necessarily in the right order”.    Some clean-yet-mucky ones will never die.   “Paintings?  My auntie’s got a Whistler” –  “Now, there’s a novelty!”.      Others are doubly funny for being out of date.  “Marjorie Proops”  “Really?”  “Every day in the Mirror”.

Ah, memories!   Bill Cotton , Lew Grade, Winifred Atwell,  Bob Martin’s dog powders, Russ Conway, Des O’Connor (“short for Desperate”).  For anybody over fifty these are magical incantations,  words of power and comfort.   For the young, the second act is  at least a demonstration, BBC-Sunday-night-style, of  their virtuoso crosstalk before the red plush curtain.  Why not?   Writing and personae like these are too precious to die with their original performers.  Tributes are  OK  if done with love.  And that fizzes from the audience like Tizer.

box office  0844 412 4663  to 12 Jan  (mainly matinées after mid- Dec)
Supported by : Stage One

Rating:  three      3 Meece Rating(and a vaudeville mouse as a makeweight)  Comedy Mouse

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