Morecambe ****

Eric Morecambe is considered by many to be one of, if not the, greatest British comedic talent of the 20th century.  Morecambe, written by Tim Whitnall, directed by Guy Masterson and starring Bob Golding (who makes a very impressive interpretation) is a hilarious and loving tribute.

Clocking in at roughly 90 minutes, the play is a romp though the life and jokes of John Eric Bartholomew, telling how he rose from an overeager child star on the touring circuit to becoming the much loved and overworked performer.  It not only chronicles his life but also goes into his friendship with Ernie Wise, who would be his partner for over forty years.  Wise is represented by a ventriloquist dummy, which at first seems like a gimmick but soon becomes a vital, and at times rather touching, component to the production.

Any tribute to a much loved public figure will be judged by the effectiveness of the performer playing him, and here the production is well served by Golding.  His performance is more of an embodiment than an impersonation, and it is based more on respect than trying to perfectly ape Morecambe’s every nuance.   He and Masterson have worked hard on pacing, and it pays off brilliantly with a shower of laughter.

As for Whitnall’s script, it is fairly well constructed, working as both a ‘life story’ and as a greatest hits compilation.  He gives just enough biographic information to be interesting without it seeming academic and finds clever ways of getting much of Morecambe’s best bits into the narrative.  It also successfully shows how strong and important his relationship to Wise really was, as Wise was not only the practical business mind behind their act but was a true genuine lifelong friend.

Morecambe is a very fitting tribute to an extraordinary talent.  It is a very entertaining production and received one of the warmest, heart-felt standing ovations I’ve encountered in some time.  Anyone who likes comedy will enjoy this, but for any fan of Morecambe and Wise, this is essential viewing.

On a final side note, Morecambe is a production that highlights the problem with a star-rating system.  I’ve given it four stars, but for any Morecambe and Wise fan it’s a solid five star show.

Originally written for Onstage Scotland.

Playing at the Assembly Hall from 16.10-17.40 until August 31.

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