Comedy is all about timing and it feels like ‘The Play What I Wrote’ has chosen the perfect moment to land at The Lowry.
Not only are we waving goodbye to January – statistically the most depressing month – but for the first time it feels like we are leaving the worst of the pandemic behind. The theatre is open to full capacity and most seats are full. Even better, audiences are laughing – full-on, spontaneous, laugh-out-loud responses that reverberate joy through the whole auditorium.
Of course, this comedy is a long tried and tested one. Inspired by the UK’s most loved comedy duo, Morecambe and Wise, the show debuted in 2001 to both popular and critical acclaim, winning several Olivier Awards the following year, including Best Comedy, and went on to enjoy Broadway success. This 20th anniversary production from Birmingham Rep sees its writers and original actors, Sean Foley and Hamish McColl in the directors’ chairs. They’ve tred the boards on this show and they instinctively know where the laughs are and how to win them.
At its heart, this is a comedy about a double act who aren’t Morecambe and Wise, but if you grew up watching Morecambe and Wise the show is full of nostalgic references, including some of Eddie Braben’s classic jokes written for the TV duo.
There is a running joke that people have come to see a show about Morecambe and Wise and are sadly disappointed. Indeed, the first 10 minutes does feel like we’re watching an old, second-rate act whose jokes are tired and whose silly walks aren’t nearly as funny as they think they are. Dennis Herdman and Thom Tuck play the hapless pair, whose characters take on their own names, Dennis and Thom. And while the two battle it out in the first act over who is the funnier, each jostling to be Morecambe rather than straight man, Wise, the main laughs often fall to side-kick Arthur (Mitesh Soni).
Arthur isn’t a comic or an actor – he’s an electrician with an obsession to play the harmonica on stage because of something his mother asked him, that we might eventually get to the bottom of. Sound strange? – it is. This double act turns out to be a trio who wind us in slowly before we’re hit with the comedy klaxon of the second act.
After the interval everything steps up, Dennis and Thom appear transformed by the energy rockets that explode onto the show in the form of giant puppets, visual gags, and the show’s changing mystery guest star. From this point everything is louder, funnier, and tighter as the laughs start hitting us and don’t let up.
Tonight’s special guest is actor, Charles Dance and what follows is hilarious. This changing famous face is a nod to the many legendary celebrity guest spots on The Morecambe and Wise show, and also helps to keep the show fresh two decades on.
Who will you see on the night? That we can’t say. But we can tell you ‘The Play What I Wrote’ is a huge amount of fun to warm you with laughter. And, while you don’t have to be an Eric and Ernie fan to enjoy it, if you are, the nostaligic finale sing-a-long of ‘Bring Me Sunshine’ will leave you beaming.
The Play What I Wrote tours to The Lowry from Mon 31 January to Sat 5 February 2022.