Eric And Little Ern

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Jonty Stephens and Ian Ashpitel in Eric And Little ErnJonty Stephens and Ian Ashpitel in Eric And Little Ern
Ian Ashpitel and Jonty Stephens in Eric And Little ErnIan Ashpitel and Jonty Stephens in Eric And Little Ern

As Christmas edges closer, it's time for Morecambe And Wise. Not on our TV screens, but in the West End.

The key questions with a show like Eric And Little Ern, which brings material made famous on TV screens to the stage,  is "Why not just watch the real thing on DVD or online? Does watching two performers impersonate comedy greats add anything?"

Happily the answer is yes.

This live show, written by performers Jonty Stephens (Eric Morecambe) and Ian Ashpitel (Ernie Wise), frames the double act's famous gags with a hint of biographical detail. Not enough to feel you know the pair's life story, but just enough to evoke the touching warmth and depth of their relationship.

Opening with Wise hooked up to a heart monitor alone in a hospital bed, the one with the short fat hairy legs sees a vision or ghost of his old partner entering as a doctor. That's all we need to start of Act 1's trip down memory lane and Act 2's 'final show'.

The brilliant, silly and simple gags take centre stage. "In the BBC canteen," says Eric, "Don't eat the Shepherd's Pie." "Why not?" asks Ern. "It will make him angry." Does it help if you know the original contexts? Probably not, the jokes prove to be timeless - and perfectly timed - though the sound of a siren had the man behind me in the audible throes of anticipation. There's more innuendo than I remember from a childhood of Christmas specials. But in the hands of Eric and Ern, it never feels crude, rather cheeky.

Stephens and Ashpitel are as close to Eric and Ern as you're likely to get. Despite having the mannerisms and relationship down pat, their performances never feel like impersonations, so completely do they inhabit the characters.

This is not a show that is going to win any prizes for setting new dramatic benchmarks or stretching the boundaries of directorial flare. It is pure, unadulterated, nostalgia-tinged entertainment, as warming as a crackling pub fire and as gentle as a new mother's caress.

It wouldn't be too much of a plot spoiler to tell you that Eric And Little Ern ends with a rendition of Bring Me Sunshine. As the song promises, the show did bring me laughter, all the while.

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