"Multi-award winning", "triumphant", "sell-out performances", "rave reviews": The Play What I Wrote's marketing department certainly haven't skimped on superlatives. Many a production has buckled under the weight of critical expectations, but not, I'm delighted to say, this one.
Like all good double acts, the show achieves a fine balance between order and anarchy. Kim wants go solo and hopes that his "brilliant new play" set in revolutionary France, A Tight Squeeze for the Scarlet Pimple will be the perfect showcase for his, previously ignored, comedic talents. Clive desperately wants Kim to continue with their double act despite their lack of success. If he can persuade Kim to perform a tribute to Morecambe and Wise and find a guest star to appear in A Tight Squeeze... their act can be saved.
The plot is really just an excuse for some brilliantly observed comedy. Kim Wall is hilariously convincing as the pompous and rather pathetic Kim. He manages to convey Kim's vulnerability and capacity for self-delusion without sacrificing the gags. Clive Hayward's Clive is loveably goonish and his comic timing rivals that of Eric Morecambe. But Andy Williams arguably has the best part as electrican turned would-be thespian, Arthur. From the unfettered pleasure of seeing a tall man with five o'clock shadow posing as Daryl Hannah to Arthur's "poignant" soliloquies about his mother, Williams gets some of the biggest laughs of the night.
The second half of the production is heavily reliant on the quality of the guest star and their willingness to be ritually humiliated before a paying audience. Brian Conley exceeded my expectations on both counts. A less confident performer might take the opportunity to dominate the show but Conley appeared to thoroughly enjoy playing second fiddle even when faced with Williams' hilarious take on The Brian Conley Show.
If the production has a failing it's the strength of the second half in comparison to the first. The choreography of “Moonlight Becomes You” is faultless but the play what Kim wrote is an undeniable, if accidental, work of comic genius and gives the actors much more scope to ad-lib, which they do effortlessly.
Although the production is dependent upon the public's affection for Morecambe and Wise, ultimately its success hinges on the reaction of the audience. Hayward and Wall never fail to provide the laughs, and have the easy familiarity of a true double act. I can't think of any higher praise.
- Claire Simpson (reviewed at the Grand Opera House, Belfast)
NOTE: The following 5 star review dates from September 2003 and an earlier stop on this tour, cast members have now changed for current cast see listings.
Okay, I admit it. I have always had a very soft spot for Morecambe and Wise. Much of my youth was spent enjoying their gentle, consistent and immensely clever humour. The comedy moments that have stayed with me all my life are as often from this duo as they are from Monty Python or any of the other, more high-profile, comedy classics. Indeed, some of their sketches rate, in my opinion, amongst the funniest ever broadcast: Mr Preview, Singing in the Rain, Cleopatra, breakfast to The Stripper ...
Against this background, I approached The Play What I Wrote with mixed feelings: would I enjoy it or feel let down? The writers and cast had to live up not only to the original, but to my particularly selective and rosy remembrances. A tricky task for any production.
The Play What I Wrote is not a tribute show as such. That is to say, it is not a couple of actors trying to re-create the personalities of Eric and Ernie. Instead, it's a play in the style of Morecambe and Wise using their show format, many of their comedy devices, lines and even some sketches. The plot involves a comedy double-act (who do a mean Morecambe and Wise) splitting up because the straight man wants to write serious drama - an extended version of the Morecambe and Wise flat scene that ran before each of Ernie's plays. Not that there's any straight drama in this piece; the plot is more a vehicle for the comedy.
As the central characters, Joseph Alessi and Ben Keaton are superb. Their energy alone is worth watching, but each also has a comedic command and stage presence equal to their subjects. Without slavishly mimicking Morecambe and Wise, they still manage to put over the whole feel of a Morecambe and Wise show.
Toby Sedgwick plays third wheel, the ubiquitous Arthur, covering a number of roles with great comic skill. (Sadly, as you'll probably get a different Mystery Special Guest, you're unlikely to see his 'Duck Pond', a moment of genuinely funny playing I shall remember, with a laugh, for a very long time.) Our mystery special guest was the ballet dancer Adam Cooper who mucked in well and seemed to genuinely enjoy the experience. The whole play-within-a-play sequence is very close to the feel of the guest slots on the original TV shows.
I have rarely, if ever, seen an audience leave a theatre on such a high. The Play What I Wrote is just a very good evening's entertainment. If you have fond memories of Morecambe and Wise, or just love fast but gentle comedy, please do go and see this show.
- Robert Iles (reviewed at the Oxford Playhouse)