Everybody loves a bit of Eric and Ern. Over fifty years after it first appeared on our screens, ‘The Morecambe & Wise Show’ still remains the high-water mark for British TV double acts. Even today, seemingly different comedy such as Reeves and Mortimer and Ant and Dec, have Eric and Ernie stamped in their DNA. Tonight, the hilarious and talented twosome behind the universally acclaimed West End hit ‘Eric & Little Ern’, Ian Ashpitel and Jonty Stephens, are at Perth Theatre as part of the ongoing Perth Festival of The Arts. The word on the street is that the pair are not only dead ringers for the dynamic duo, but also have their warmth and comic timing down pat. I’ve brought my mum, Norma along to confirm this as she used to see Eric Morecambe when she and my dad used to dine at a hotel he owned in Fenstanton.
Within minutes of Ashpitel and Stephens hitting the stage, I’m already beginning to think of them as Eric and Ernie. Physically and vocally, they bear a fairly striking resemblance, but it is the mannerisms and facial expressions that elevate their performance above mere comedy karaoke. Stephens perhaps has slightly more to play with as Eric Morecambe, and he inhabits the role uncannily well. It’s the authenticity of all the signature tics, the wiggle of the glasses, the friendly slaps to Ernie’s face, and the way he grabs his own neck to pull himself back behind the curtain, that really makes all the difference. Ashpitel has the less showy Ernie role but he too has it down pat, with his little soft shoe shuffle, puffed-up pomposity and the beleaguered sideways glances he shoots Eric as he endures yet another jibe. Also, his Jimmy Durante impression had my mum laughing so hard that she started coughing uncontrollably.
This would all mean nothing if the show wasn’t actually funny, but it is funny. Really funny. I love the way the pair manage to incorporate so many classic lines while also sneaking in some of their own newer material that is still very much in keeping with the Eric and Ernie vibe. It fits in so seamlessly that the only time you can tell for sure that it’s not the original material is when it references the post-Morecambe and Wise world with a gag about Wetherspoons or Perth Premier Inn.
There is even a special musical guest in the form of the glamorous and extremely talented Jenna Lee James, star of West End hits like ‘We Will Rock You’ and ‘Mamma Mia’. She gives a bravura performance of ‘Send in the Clowns’, while our heroes in full clown regalia, do their best to distract her with balloons. It’s a hilarious sketch and it really is amazing that she manages to keep a straight face let alone sing, although later they leave her alone to sing a great version of ‘Proud Mary’.
Funnier still is the stone-in-the-paper-bag routine, that with a little bit of audience participation had me laughing even harder than the original skit. As the show nears the end, a bit of quick-witted ad-libbing from Stephens nearly causes Ashpitel to corpse, and before you know it we are all singing along to ‘Bring Me Sunshine’. It’s been a great night of good old fashioned hilarity, singing and dancing and it’s my highlight of the festival so far.
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