Hot from London's West End, The Play What I Wrote prances across the country in a production by Hugh Borthwick, who has worked on previous stagings and tours.
More than a play about a play within a play, it's a comedy concerned with the very nature of theatre itself; particularly about what makes an audience laugh, and why. Timing may be crucial, but what more is there to the tag-line and reaction to it? Do we laugh at the people on stage, or with them, or even nervously at elements of ourselves brought suddenly into the spotlight's glare?
For audiences of a certain age, the quintessential comedy duo is Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise. Their skills were honed on stage in front of live audiences long before television success made them the nation's darlings. Performing live means danger - so many things can go wrong, and there's absolutely no chance of a second take. Danger adds spice; we sit up and take notice.
Anthony Houghton is the little straight man (itching to be taken seriously) to Damien Myerscough's lanky lead joker (who knows better than to try to escape what is really a very comfortable mould). Together - and separately - they balance us neatly on that three-legged stool which is exasperation, empathy and amusement.
From their first appearance to the final tribute to their comedy heroes, this is a double act which really works. Neville Hutton, as the associate roped in to get the real show on the road, properly grabs every chance at a visual gag that comes his way - and several which he makes for himself.
These decorative touches are often hilarious and can leave one wondering if the tricks which don't quite come off have been deliberately planned to be fallible. The opportunity to work local references into the jokes - again, part of the music hall, variety show and pantomime tradition into which The Play What I Wrote fits - comes naturally to this entertaining and stylishly presented piece.
- Anne Morley-Priestman