From the moment Bob Golding, as Eric Morecambe, whips a dust sheet off a chaise-longue and declares “sofa, so good,” he has started as he means to go on.
So begins this one-man show about the British comedian who died 25 years ago, leaving a comedy legacy that is resurrected here by Golding, who, with a waggle of Morecambe’s trademark glasses, expertly revives the old fashioned quick-fire gags, rapid delivery, distinctive body language and sunny disposition that made the comedian so loved.
The show starts with the news announcement of Morecambe’s death, of a heart attack, in 1984 when he and comedy partner Ernie Wise were the most popular comedians in Britain. We all know how it ended, but perhaps not how it began, and so Tim Whitnall’s play takes us back to the beginning, when Eric Bartholomew, to give his real name, first began cracking jokes in talent contests as a teen in Morecambe, the Lancashire town where he was born and which provided his stage name.
At lightening speed Golding takes us through Morecambe’s biography, embodying both the comic himself and all the people relevant to his story: his parents, agents, producers, commissioners. We hear about him meeting Ernie Wise, going through National Service during the war – which he was dismissed from early due to the heart condition that would eventually kill him – we see the duo’s beginning on the comedy circuit, their disastrous TV debut and then the gradual rise to success with their own television series, guest spots on America’s Ed Sullivan Show and Christmas specials that half the UK tuned in to watch.
This popularity is obvious from the extent to which the audience remembers Morecambe’s gags 25 years after his death. Last night all it took was the sight of a paper bag to have the audience in fits of laughter, knowing that one of Morecambe’s most famous jokes was to follow. As he mocks Des O’Connor, introduces The Beatles and sings Bring Me Sunshine it is clear that affection for the comic has not waned since his death.
Of course Morecambe was just one half of the partnership. Ernie Wise is here depicted as a ventriloquist’s dummy, which is not as derogatory as it sounds. Instead it seems to imply that the pair were glued together, that one did not function without the other, and also references the fact that Ernie was the straight man who made Eric’s gags fly.
As Whitnall’s play progresses the inevitable demise of the comic creeps up, imbuing the show with pathos and poignancy. The famous partnership may have come to a sad end in 1984, but Golding has brought a little of Morecambe’s sunshine back into the West End.