The New Theatre opened its doors on Wednesday for an ‘Evening of Eric and Ern’ (directed by Daniel Clarkson) an upbeat, contemporary homage to the comedy of Morecambe and Wise. Set against the backdrop of the classic red velvet curtains, Ian Ashpitel (Ernie) and Jonty Stephens (Eric) gave a stellar performance as their comedic idols, proving there is a real insatiable appetite for the classic comedy of their predecessors.
The show was set as a typical Morecambe and Wise performance, abundant with small sketches and songs, that ensured the audience’s full attention, despite the rather long sections of pure repertoire between the duo. However, Stephens archetypal use of Morecambe’s idioms, such as that of the ball in the paper bag, and almost skipping from one side of the stage to the other ensured we were kept on our toes.
Aesthetically, both Stephens and Ashpitel were uncanny, when sat in the audience, it was almost as if we were transported to 1978, and watching a real performance on the television, which was incredibly nostalgic for those who were raised on the slapstick humour they produced. Ian Ashpitel particularly shone when performing the ‘ditties’ expected in any Morecambe and Wise productions, especially in his rendition of ‘Positive thinking’, where, after a slightly rigid start, he really captivated the audience, who couldn’t help but sing along with him.
Yet it was Jonty Stephens, and his performance of Eric Morecambe who really stole the show. It was evident as soon as he stood on the stage that he was revelling in his performance as much as the audience was. His passion for his character created a real buzz throughout the theatre, as members sat on the edge of their seat whilst he ripped into Ashpitel, fiddled with his glasses in typical Morecambe fashion and was the star of most of the sketches. One particular sketch where he stood out was when he was handed a set of bongos, so that Ernie could sing to the audience, with him acting as the musical accompaniment. He really captivated the audience attention with only the use of a small prop. His struggle to play his instrument in the right way became so hilarious that real rip-roaring laughs filled the whole theatre, something fairly rare, when every member of the audience is genuinely laughing. This really shows that the slap-stick humour, lesser found today, is really missed.
Yet, for me, one of the most impressive sections of the show was the appearance of Stephanie Webber. She sang twice within the performance, which was completely note-perfect and offered a calming ethos, which in the midst of such happy chaos was rather welcomed. Perhaps the best section of the entire show was when Stephanie sang and the seriousness of her vocals was juxtaposed by Ashpitel and Stephens, who ran on stage dressed as clowns, handing her balloons whilst they continued to try (and fail) to mould balloon animals much to the audiences amusement. It was a real joy to turn to see audience members wiping tears from their eyes as they laughed.
Stephanie Webber does deserve perhaps the highest praise of all, as it was said at the end of the performance, that she stepped in last minute with only two hours of rehearsal time, she gave a performance as if she had two months, not even batting an eyelid when her microphone was not turned on for her first song.
Ultimately, ‘An Evening of Eric and Ern’ was a respectful and accurate depiction of the humour of Morecambe and Wise, offering deep belly-laughs from start to finish. The comedy duo gave a refreshingly nostalgic performance, ended perfectly with an audience-participated sing along of ‘Bring Me Sunshine’, which made a full theatre seem like an intimate show, leaving us on a high.
You can check out the other great shows coming to the New Theatre Cardiff here.
Article by Daisy Gaunt