Bob Golding brings more than sunshine in this one-man play about British comedian Eric Morecambe. As well as giving an uncanny performance as the late TV star – complete with the tics, mannerisms and Lancastrian accent we all know and love – Golding portrays Morecambe’s family members, industry colleagues and fellow celebrities in a tireless, two-hour show. Golding sings, dances and delivers dialogue with only a couple of scripted Scotch breaks to catch his breath.
The economy of design is a marvel. Golding’s van, a small white job with the Morecambe logo painted on the side, is parked round the back of Newtownabbey’s Theatre at the Mill (the play is also visiting Lisburn in June). The vehicle ferries Golding, a minimal stage set and a few costumes around the UK and Ireland, dispatching the production in gung-ho fashion. It’s the theatrical equivalent of a DIY punk tour; have pipe and glasses, will travel. But Golding puts on one hell of a show.
The play (what Tim Whitnall wrote, and what Guy Masterson directed) opens with the actor poking his head through plush red curtains at the rear of the stage. It’s a sight known to anyone who loved the Morecambe and Wise TV specials, but this is different: Eric is in Heaven.
As Golding paces the stage in flat cap and trench coat, looking back at Morecambe’s life, we meet the key players in the funnyman’s ascent: doting mother Sadie; theatrical impresarios Jack Hylton and Vivian van Damm; TV moguls John Ammonds and Lew Grade; genius scriptwriter Eddie Braben; and, of course, Ernie Wise. Even Bruce Forsyth gets a look in, with an impersonation that brings the house down.
Golding snaps between characters like he’s talking to himself – all part of the madcap nature of the show – but Wise is afforded a physical presence in the shape of a ventriloquist’s dummy. This may seem a distasteful idea on paper, but it is wonderfully charming in execution. Golding captures the affection, onstage and off, between Eric and Ernie. Indeed, when the Wise doll is put back in the costume chest at the end of the night, the audience sighs as one: ‘Awww!’
Morecambe rattles along at a breakneck pace. One minute, Eric is singing ‘I’m Not All There’ to a tough music hall crowd of the 1940s, the next he’s lording it up at the top of the television tree, playing hard to get with cigar-chomping bigwigs. There are familiar gags (‘Tea ‘Ern?’, the coin in the paper bag, Eric’s elongated leg stretching from the wings, Ernie’s supposed wig) and a triumphant romp through ‘Bring Me Sunshine’.
Morecambe is not just a treat for fans of the late star, but for anyone interested in the history of British entertainment. Pathos and comedy are perfectly balanced, as are obscure revelations and beloved routines. Eric and Ernie are still held in great affection by the public, and this play serves as a touching – and very funny – tribute.Morecambe is on the Island Arts Centre, Lisburn on June 21 at 8pm