The Play What I Wrote
Hamish McColl, Sean Foley and Eddie Braben
Gala Theatre, Durham, and touring
It had two West End runs and then did a national tour of the big receiving houses. Now it's on a fourteen week tour of smaller venues - indeed, the tour is almost over: Durham is the penultimate stop, with only Dundee Rep to follow next week. Having seen and reviewed the 2004 tour at the Newcastle Theatre Royal, I couldn't resist the temptation to see how The Play What I Wrote has stood the test of time.
And indeed it is fairly timely, for Christmas Day 2007, not much more than thirteen months hence (What? they haven't started advertising for it yet?), will mark the thirtieth anniversary of that night when more than half the total population of the UK tuned in to BBC1 to watch the Morecambe and Wise Christmas Special, a truly amazing event which, thanks to changes in both TV and society, will probably never be repeated.
The audience at the Gala - including this reviewer - loved it and laughed through every minute. Is it that Morecambe and Wise's humour is still as fresh as it was back in their glory days? Or is it nostalgia? Or both? Talking after the show to two audience members who hadn't been born in 1977, it could well be the first alternative, but then my own memories of their shows coloured so much of my reaction to the play that I must, after all, go for alternative number three. Possibly my two young friends were probably brought up on a diet of Morecambe and Wise repeats and videos, so...
What does it matter? It is still a very funny show, and the current cast - Andrew Cryer, Greg Haiste and Anthony Hoggard - are worthy successors to McColl, Foley and Toby Jones, the original London cast, and Joseph Alessi, Ben Keaton and Toby Sedgwick, whom I saw in the 2004 tour. Full of energy and still, after twelve weeks on the road, clearly finding it fun, the threesome carry the audience along on wave after wave of laughter. And they are very ably assisted in the second half by guest star "Dame" Lisa Riley of Emmerdale and You've Been Framed fame, who flung herself - at one point quite literally, into her part as La Contesse de Toblerone in A Tight Squeeze for the Scarlet Pimple, the play what Greg Haiste wrote.
And there's still that element of pathos that we find in all good comedy. It's not laboured and soon, indeed, replaced by yet more humour, and as we all joined in "Bring Me Sunshine" at the end, it was very obvious that the comedy of Morecambe and Wise, whether reproduced exactly or affectionately parodied, is truly timeless.
Reviewer: Peter Lathan