The Play What I Wrote review – a madcap revival that brings warmth and plenty of laughter
Tom Hiddleston appeared as the mystery guest star for press night
When it first hit the stage 20 years ago The Play What I Wrote became the play everyone wanted to see and was hugely successful on both sides of the Atlantic. Written by Sean Foley and Hamish McColl, who took the lead roles in the original production, Foley is now artistic director at Birmingham Repertory Theatre and has revived the show for the venue's Christmas run.
A homage to the legendary comedy duo Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise, The Play What I Wrote tells the tale of two struggling actors who are facing a crossroads in their career: do they stick with their own funny double act or go for serious drama?
The plot is an excuse for two hours of madcap comedy as Dennis Herdman, playing Dennis, and Thom Tuck, playing Thom, deliver up the kind of anarchic and zany gags for which Morecambe and Wise were so famous.
One of the huge selling points of The Play What I Wrote has always been the mystery guest star who plays the straight actor in Thom's ridiculous drama A Tight Squeeze For The Scarlet Pimple. At press night it was Tom Hiddleston who was in the limelight. Clad in a woman's dress and white wig, he may have looked more like a pantomime dame than a serious thespian but that is the whole point. And Hiddleston, best known for the television series The Night Manager and Marvel Studios' Loki, clearly relished every moment, playing to the audience as he pulled up his frock and high kicked his heels.
Other mystery guests already featured in Birmingham have been Kara Tointon and Denise Welch and with the show running until January 1 at the Rep and then touring, there are plenty of opportunities for more A-listers to temporarily join the cast.
It is the contrast of straight and humour which makes The Play What I Wrote such a pleasure to watch – you never quite know what is coming next. Foley and McColl throw in so many references to Morecambe and Wise, the show is peppered with nostalgia and it also hits the funny bone with just plain silliness.
Herdman is the joker of the duo, tricking and playing up Thom whose play what he wrote is even dafter than the humour of their double act. Together the two are an ideal pair, bouncing the laughs off each other in quickfire rounds. Alongside is Mitesh Soni playing Arthur – the fall guy who steps in to take on a range of different roles including producer David Pugh, a dog, the French public and Scarlett Johansson. Arthur is determined to play a harmonica solo as a tribute to his mum and when he finally gets his moment all the audience are with him.
Designer Alice Power and lighting designer Tim Mitchell also use their skills to ramp up the humour – there is a fantastic scene where Herdman follows the spotlight round the stage and the prison cell in Thom's play has lots of clever props to hang a wisecrack onto.
The Rep has traditionally staged a family show at Christmas and has produced some wonderful plays and musicals over the years so swapping for a production which will attract a largely adult audience is a risk. While The Play What I Wrote is undoubtedly a theatre classic and a revival will be greatly enjoyed by many, it will be interesting to see if it can pull in the same audiences this festive season. But for those looking for some warm humour and plenty of laughter after what has been without doubt a tough 20 months, it is the ideal show.