Monday 27th June 2022 at York Theatre Royal.
Morecambe and Wise began their career together after persuading a producer to give their solo acts a break in favour of a double act performance at the Liverpool Empire in 1941. 80 years on, their legacy has inspired many tributes and in The Play What I Wrote, Hamish McColl, Sean Foley and Eddie Braben offer a very fine homage to these titans of comedy in a show described very aptly by Foley as “sophisticated daftness”.
Foley co-created and performed in the original production back in 2001 and now directs, so there’s a sense that this incarnation has a touch of that original magic. The basic premise here is that this isn’t simply impersonation of the comedy legends; it’s the story of a comedy double act – in much the same vein as M&W – on the brink of dissolution. Poor Dennis (Dennis Herdman) is desperate to keep his pal Thom (Thom Tuck) in the game, but Thom is more interested in running with the play “what he wrote” than impersonating the famous Morecambe and Wise as a London producer suggests. Through some well intentioned fibbing and artfulness Dennis gets his wish – and with a fair few crossed wires to enjoy, we reap the benefits of Dennis’ white lies.
We are fed a veritable feast of comedy dishes, spanning classic slapstick, clever puns and dad jokes, prop gags and running gags, dramatic over-acting and plenty of gurning reacting to upstage one another across the performance. Regardless of comedy tastes, it seems there’s something for everyone here, and as with many farcical shows, once you’ve acclimatised to the supreme silliness, the laughs get more plentiful as the minutes tick by.
Both Herdman and Tuck are forces of nature in a production that sets a thrilling pace and maintains it (even while Covid cases among the company provided fewer stage hands than usual). Herdman seems permanently utterly in his element while Tuck plays the artist in crisis to a T. The pair are joined by the brilliant Mitesh Soni who is perfectly credited as “Arthur and others” in a role that sees him flitting between a roster of fleeting characters with impressive speed, bringing his own impeccable comic timing to the mix.
Plenty of silly and well crafted surprises arrive on stage and the cast – particularly Herdman – treat the interruptions caused by COVID’s theft of stage hands as delightful opportunities to improvise; while some may have seen such circumstances as limiting, this show takes it as an unexpected gift of fresh material to play with. And as for the much publicised “mystery guest” slot? Sue Holderness, of Only Fools and Horses fame had her work cut out to keep up with this tireless trio but did a beautiful job of honing in on the tongue-in-check nature of her role.
Alice Power’s set is a solid source of throwback visuals – TV sets that quiver and drop their adornments at the slamming of doors take us back to nostalgic afternoons watching classic comedy turns. Ian West’s choreography is affectionately akin to the moves of Morecambe and Wise but takes its own path too and offers a high energy sequence which provides a distinct highlight. Meanwhile we begin and end with a sweet, tongue-in-check little ditty from Gary Yerson (Musical director: Steve Parry) which unmistakably reminds us to whom this show pays tribute.
The Play What I Wrote is a lively, light footed show with surprisingly wide appeal thanks to a generous array of comedic offerings. With such a fantastic cast bringing it all together, it’s a top way to spend an evening.
The Play What I Wrote plays York Theatre Royal until July 2nd 2022 – you can your find tickets here.