By their very nature one-man shows are fraught with difficulties . One-man shows based on real people are even trickier, especially when the subject is a comedian well-loved by millions and who died only 25 years ago.
Tim Whitnall’s script for Morecambe performed by Bob Golding in a production by Guy Masterson – which has been previewing before going up to Edinburgh and thence on a national tour – avoids the pitfalls of the genre with considerable skill. It helps that Golding not only looks like the young Eric Morecambe (né Bartholomew) but is himself a talented comedian with an impressive array of performance skills.
Taking the audience chronologically from the young boy earning first pennies, then shillings and slowly graduating to a few pounds a week singing and tap-dancing for local groups and subsequently as a novelty variety act in music-halls, the spoken but unseen presence of pushy mother Sadie and more laid-back father draws us into the story. It’s at once a familiar and yet distant history, re-creating a now-vanished theatrical era.
During one such engagement young Eric met Ernie Wiseman. The famous partnership grew from slowly recognising that their talents were complementary. Masterson chooses to represent Wise as a ventriloquist’s dummy with Golding making no attempt to disguise his own lip movements. It works extremely well, the dummy in immaculate black-and-white evening dress is a formidable personality, even when propped up on the sofa which, with a props basket and brass trolley, make up the stage furniture.
At the extreme back of the stage is an old-fashioned proscenium arch, suggesting a faded Art Déco cinema of the sort which also accommodated live performance. It reminds us that what we see on stage may reflect real life but is not necessarily true to it. Drama has its own time-scale. We laugh at the wartime difficulties, rejoice at the breakthroughs first on radio and (eventually) on television, wince at the disasters knowing all the time that stage masks shield “the nation’s favourite comedians” from personal tragedies.
Morecambe suffered a series of heart attacks and underwent a triple bypass before eventually dying just off-stage in 1984. Golding gives us the sense of that physical decline without histrionics or mawkishness and suggests Morecambe’s overwhelming need to keep on working past financial necessity and ignoring family pressures to slow down. Ultimately it’s a show about laughter and, when Golding changes in front of us into pure white morning dress, there’s a nice suggestion that some fluffy clouds may be shaking with angelic laughter.