The Play What I Wrote

Hamish McColl and Sean Foley and, of course, Eddie Braben

Wyndham's

(2003)

Review by Philip Fisher

The Right Size, Hamish McColl and Sean Foley, have always fallen somewhere in the middle ground between serious stage actors and slapstick comedians. In the past, they have played not only in their own quirky comedies but also in the work of that most serious of playwrights, Bertolt Brecht.

Their latest play has something of the feel of Noises Off. In the first half, we see our two happy chappies fighting over whether or not they will put on a stage show based on the lives of Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise. It soon becomes apparent that Hamish will have to be the reluctant straight man while Sean has all of the fun.

Into this scenario steps Arthur the electrician, played beautifully by Toby Jones. This is a dream of a part, as, inter alia, he has to imitate major stars like Carmen Miranda and in six-inch high silver platforms, Daryl Hannah. If not always convincing in these parts, Jones has a whale of a time hamming it up.

The Right Size obviously like the Jones family, as in their previous play, Bewilderness, their co-star was the distinguished actor Freddie Jones. They seem to have developed a knack for attracting big-name stars. For this production, as well as Toby Jones, they have a special guest star each night. If they can continue to put on actors of the calibre of Victor Mildew (Sean's naming) - Sir Richard Wilson - then they will be doing well. If by any chance Toby, the Right Size and a theatrical knight are not enough to sell his play, then the name of their director, Kenneth Branagh should ensure that the early full houses are maintained.

In reality, most of the seats in the theatre will not be sold by any of the stars appearing. This is a homage to two stars from 25 years ago who are clearly still much loved by not only the British public but also tourists. The affection that is felt for Morecambe and Wise is clear from audience reaction. This is light, slapstick comedy with a heavy quota of laughs and a little pathos and insecurity for balance.

The first half of the play is all the Right Size, though. In fact, the really inventive and arguably funniest jokes both verbal and physical come in this part. The most audacious piece of humour during the evening was a very carefully staged piece of physical comedy reminiscent of Steve McQueen (the video artist, not the film star!) which on a good night brings down the interval curtain and leaves Sean Foley alive. In the best circus traditions, there is, though a danger that he may not make it to the end of what could be a long run.

After the interval, the play is given over to an hour long Morecambe and Wise stage spectacular. We get all of the expected lines and laughs and depending upon taste, this will regarded as the best entertainment on the London stage or fairly humorous but very predictable. On a set that has all of the drab artificiality of a 1970s TV spectacular, our heroes become their own heroes. They run through a typical comedy routine with scenes in bed, songs, and all of the gags, both good and bad, that one might expect.

It might be suggested that McColl and Foley have ruthlessly decided to fill a theatre on the back of the names of Morecambe and Wise. For the most part, their audiences will not care in the least about this. They will be paying their money for a nostalgic chance to laugh their way back into their younger selves.