There was no “Andrew Preview” or Angela Ripon doing a high kick. “Desperate” Des O’Connor was otherwise detained and its two stars, Morecambe and Wise, of course, were sadly absent.
But that didn’t stop the audience at Northampton’s Royal and Derngate Theatre laughing their socks off on Saturday night, at Eric And Little Ern, an affectionate and lovingly crafted tribute to the best-loved double act in British entertainment.
Jonty Stephens and Ian Ashpitel play the comics helped, in no little part, by using the pair’s material written by Eddie Braben, Dick Hills and Sid Green.
That means we are treated to the classic “Ice Cream” van gag and the epic Grieg’s Piano Concerto joke along with the paper bag trick (which went down exceptionally well.)
There are also references to Luton Town, Ern’s wig, the plays what he wrote and the guests that appeared on their shows.
The first act is rather poignant. The show opens in a private room of a hospital where Ernie is about to take his final curtain call.
It’s 1999 and he’s visited by Eric, dressed as a doctor, who died 15 years earlier. They sit and reflect on their career and re-live some of its highlights.
They laugh about their act dying at the Glasgow Empire before Eric quietly recalls, to a hushed and saddened audience, how he dropped dead in the wings just after completing a guest appearance in a friend’s show in Tewkesbury.
“It could have been worse. I could have died on stage,” he remarks totally deadpan.
The second act is The Act. We’re watching the duo do their show and it’s a hoot.
There are as many groans as laughs from the audience as the vintage gags hit an appreciative target.
Some jokes are almost spoilt as the auditorium, filled with fans, collectively mumble the punch-lines to their well-known jokes before the actors.
Stephens relies a lot on wiggling his thick horn-rimmed glasses and screwing up his nose to create Eric Morecambe. He’s taller and slimmer than the real deal but perfectly captures the essence of the pipe-smoking Hatter fan and comic genius.
Ashpitel is a little too plump for Ern but, again, gives us the spirit of the star. I’d take issue with his comments, as Ern, that he was resentful of the adulation heaped on Eric.
From everything I’ve read about the men they totally respected, admired and loved each other throughout their 43 years working together.
As they say in the show: “You made me laugh and I made you laugh.”
This tremendous show doesn’t make you cry with laughter as the originals achieved through their countless TV shows, but it does make you chuckle and evoke all those wonderful memories of the jokes, the guests, the Christmas specials, and, most of all, the country’s favourite comedians.
It finales, as only it can, with Bring Me Sunshine.
Remaining touring dates
Nov 10, Harrogate Theatre
Nov 11, Southport Theatre
Nov 13, Dundee Rep
Nov 14, Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh
Nov 15, Rose Theatre, Kingston
Nov 16, Trinity Theatre, Tunbridge Wells
Nov 18, Electric Palace, Bridport
Nov 19, Wyvern Theatre, Swindon
Nov 20, Princess Theatre, Torquay
Nov 21, Taliesin Arts Centre, Swansea
Nov 24, Kings Theatre, Glasgow
Nov 25, The Woodville, Gravesend
Nov 26, Kenton Theatre, Henley
Nov 27-28, Leicester Curve
Nov 29, The Brewery, Kendal
Dec 1, Gulbenkian Theatre, Canterbury
Dec 2, Festival Theatre, Malvern.
Eric and Little Ern will take up a Christmas residency at St James Theatre, London, from December 16 – January 11.