Eric and Ern

Ian Ashpitel, Jonty Stephens and Martin Clarkson
Capitol Theatre, Horsham

Bring Me Sunshine Credit: Paul Coltas
Jonty Stephens & Ian Ashpitel as Eric and Ern Credit: Paul Coltas

How do you represent a comedy duo who worked together for 40 years and are imprinted on the nation’s Christmas show consciousness? The answer can be found in the National tour of Eric and Ern, where actors Ian Ashpitel and Jonty Stephens play all the right notes in precisely the right order!

It’s difficult for such an iconic comedy partnership to be recreated live, with immensely high expectations from the devotee fans who are looking for their favourite lines to be redelivered. In essence, this feels like a greatest hits album being reproduced on stage and in this sense it didn’t disappoint the Horsham audience, some of whom did not stop laughing from start to finish.

To begin with, Ashpitel and Stephens bear an uncanny resemblance to Eric and Ern, with Stephens as Eric particularly fitting the mould with his facial expressions, gestures and little movements. It is no wonder that the act started with Stephens playing Eric Morecombe at a charity show, such is his attention to detail. The greatest compliment one can play is that at times you had to remind yourself that this was an actor portraying the comedian and not the ‘real thing’.

Throughout this performance, the jokes keep on coming thick and fast and just like all of those classic '70s shows, the emphasis on wordplay is clever and quick-witted with various members of the audience responding to the punchline in advance of hearing it. The physical comedy too is impressive with slapstick timing both silly and clever at the same time.

What is perhaps most endearing about this show is the appeal to offers to people of all ages. I sat with my 13-year-old hard-to-please teenage daughter who enjoyed the show as much as I did. That is not to say that this performance will draw people of all ages, if the audience at The Capitol is anything to go by.

The constant breaking of the fourth wall added to the sense of the old musical hall style where Eric and Ern learned the ropes. The highpoint is surely the recreation of the "Ice-Cream" joke, which invited premature punchlines from the audience and led Stephens to exclaim out, “It’s almost as if they knew what was coming...” which drew delighted applause from those watching.

The songs in the show are not always as successful as the jokes and sketches. This is perhaps more to do with the lack of staging than the performers themselves. Despite this, the excellent guest vocalist Sinéad Wall is brilliant in the “Send in The Clowns” moment, as the better she sang and straighter she acted, the funnier the scene became. This song was equally beautiful and hilarious at the same time and worked a treat.

The second act dipped a little after the high spots of the first, though there was the "Grieg Piano Concerto" sketch which was played delightfully despite the lack of an actual André Previn. This is staged with perfect timing and attention to detail when considering the original and drew a delighted response from the whole theatre.

There were crowd-pleasing moments throughout the performance and any Morecombe and Wise aficionados will surely love this show and can catch it as it tours the country until the end of the year. It is perhaps fitting that the finale ended with “Bring Me Sunshine” leaving a warm and upbeat feeling as we disappeared into the night requoting our favourite punchlines.

Tickets for the tour can be booked at various venues directly. For more information please visit Eric and Little Ern

Reviewer: John Johnson

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