Comedy is a serious business. It doesn’t just happen. There’s a lot of work involved.
Say, for example, you decide to put together a show for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. What could be easier than impersonating this country’s best loved comedy double act and riding to success on the ready-made affection of your audience? In fact it’s not so easy. It’s quite a gamble because you are playing with people’s most fondly held comedy memories and if it weren’t quite right, well the audience could turn nasty. It could be the Glasgow Empire all over again.
There was no such trouble at the Core in Corby when Eric and Little Ern was performed by its creators Ian Ashpitel and Jonty Stephens. The show has been touring to great success since its Edinburgh debut.
In it they paid tribute to the lives and careers of Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise in a performance that was funny and at times quite touching.
The first half took us to Ernie’s hospital bed in 1999 as Eric returns from beyond the grave to reminisce about their early days in variety and take a trip through some of their best loved comedy moments. Grieg’s piano concerto. “He’ll never sell any ice cream going at that speed!” The pair of them sitting up in bed together.
But it also hinted at the fact that Ernie maybe never got the credit he deserved for being such a brilliant straight man, the sheer hard work that went into making their shows look so effortless and spontaneous and a certain tension over Eric’s reluctance to compromise in order to make it in the USA.
It brought to life the golden era of Morecambe and Wise. On the BBC. In the Seventies. It recognised too, the role of scriptwriter Eddie Braben who is credited with creating the on-stage personas that were so successful for them. Eric as the daft fool and Ernie as the pompous, vain, would-be playwright.
The second half, played in front of those trademark curtains, took us back to the Eric and Ernie that many of us remember. On stage working the audience. Ernie trying to take it seriously and sing one of his songs while Eric larks about with a paper bag.
Both actors have observed and copied their mannerisms so closely and they never lost it for a second. Was that an ad lib or a carefully rehearsed bit of business? You don’t quite know, and for a moment you could almost imagine it was really them.