A one-man monologue celebrating one of the most-loved and iconic half of TV’s most successful comedy acts ever, Eric Morecambe, comes to Edinburgh Fringe – Performing at TheSpaceTriplex (Venue 38) from the 15 – 13th August. TRH’s John Kennedy is intrigued and decides to delve in to the Norfolk Fen-den hubs of creative fervour where rehearsals are near complete and talk to Director, Keith Gallois and Richard Dodd in the titular role.
TRH: Keith, tell us how you came across the play and your approach to staging it? (The fact that you are subverting the Edinburgh Fringe paradigm of 60 minutes ‘tops’ running time is rather cheeky – but 90 minutes? More of that later!)
Keith: I was fortunate to see the excellent Bob Golding in the role many years ago on the original tour and was totally bowled over by it. Tim Whitnall’s writing is beautiful, with moments of sublime comedy and heart-breaking sadness. Even in rehearsals we have found ourselves laughing one minute, and then wiping away a tear the next. The play follows the story of Eric’s life, with one actor playing 34 separate roles. Our Eric, Richard Dodd, has to change character at breakneck speed – I am still not quite sure how he manages it.
Those of us of a certain age grew up with Eric and Ernie and of course they were much loved. To be able to nostalgically reminisce about their story but also to introduce Morecambe and Wise to a new generation, is certainly an honour.
In terms of staging Morecambe, right from the start we wanted it to be an out of the suitcase type production. On stage we have a rack of clothes, a table and chair and that is pretty much it. Richard brings everything else he needs with him in his suitcase. From that first moment it is all about engaging the audience, enchanting them with Eric’s story, making them laugh, smile and cry. Eric once said “If I made you laugh, all well and good. If I made you care, even better” We intend to make the audience care, leaving the theatre fondly remembering Eric and Ern. Hopefully, we can bring some sunshine into their day – now there’s a good topic for a song.
TRH: Richard. You’re a well-travelled actor, content in you muse, but open to new frontiers, busy catching-up after Covid. Then along comes Keith asking you to learn, intuit and perform a 90-minute monologue projecting the myriad, complex facets of a comedian considered, amongst those in the more maturing years demographic, as a national treasure – ‘…a play wot hasto be got right!’ As it were – in your own time!
Richard: Well, I knew Keith and had seen some brilliant shows he’d directed (including one my wife Sam was in!) and was very keen to work with him. When the opportunity came up to go for Morecambe I was all in from the first minute. Though I’m a relative spring chicken at just under 50 I grew up with a love my parents shared of classic British comedy performers like George Formby and Norman Wisdom, and Eric and Ernie were idols of mine, especially Eric. I remember the Morecambe and Wise show was a real event whenever it came on TV. Though I’ve done many shows before, I’d never tackled a one man show, so it was daunting but exciting at the same time, and to get to tell the story of one of my comedy idols was a dream come true!
TRH: Keith, was it a case of 90 minutes or nothing? Was there a clause in the playwright, Tim Whitnall, performance licence that made this compulsory? Together with being so well constructed that it just couldn’t be edited?
Keith: As for breaking the 60-minute barrier, we thought long and hard about that. There was no way I would dishonour Tim Whitnall with cuts to his brilliant work, and there was no way that we were going to bring any show but Morecambe to the Fringe. This one is 90 minutes that feels like 60. It’s a 4-3 goal to goal thriller and certainly not a 0-0 bore draw. I’m of the firm opinion that if the author intended it to be a certain length, then they did so to tell the story properly. That is certainly the case with this one. It is an epic story and needs to be done right – and it is, and then some.
TRH: Richard, let’s address the obvious but incredibly fascinating – one-man show construct. How do you approach it – it’s a whopping body of text to absorb and recall? How did the process of interrogating the text evolve. Did you consult with the playwright? Did you immerse yourself in Box-Sets? Is your portrayal of EM a meta-characterisation as opposed/alongside to an impersonation? Every male over 50 has their own EM quip after all…
Richard: It’s been very much a step-by-step process. The audition required me to learn a section of the script so I got used to it from the off. I tend to use multiple methods, recording and listening, reading and covering the text as you go through, making cue cards. I’ve tried pretty much every method to absorb the script! I kind of have, not a photographic mind, but I can visualise the pages and the structure of the script (coloured highlighters for songs, costume, sound effects etc… really helped!) But the script is so well written and I find there are cues that lead you into the next section, whether it’s word association, a costume change or a sound effect.
Keith reached out to the original actor Bob Golding and he said that the cues became fellow cast members in the play with him and I couldn’t agree more! It’s been a massive team effort though and the sound, music, costumes and props that the team have brought together really allow me to feel like I’m in Eric’s world. In terms of mannerisms, voice etc… I just absorbed as much as I could find online of Eric and the likes of Bob Golding portraying Eric. Keith’s style is very collaborative and we all chip in with ideas and go with what works. It’s been a fantastic experience and I just look forward to every rehearsal. Keith even made me a tea the other day. It really is a labour of love though, and to take on telling the story of a genuine national treasure is an absolute privilege. The more you watch Eric the more you can appreciate his genius, and our two year old daughter is always a willing ‘ball thrower’ for the paper bag trick. 😂
Keith: Let me just add to what Richard says. As a director, getting the right actor in the first place was critical. I needed someone with a passing resemblance to Eric, which Richard has. But more importantly I needed someone who could portray the spirit of Eric. We have spent a lot of time learning all we could about what made Eric tick. Richard has immersed himself in the role, which is a huge credit to him. Fiona Castle, widow of the much-loved Roy, came to a recent rehearsal. The Castles’ and Morecambe’s were best friends and it was in fact Eric who set Fiona and Roy up for their first date. Fiona gave us our greatest tribute, telling Richard that he had mastered Eric’s persona and even sounded like him – and yes, we did all shed a tear when she said that. I’m immensely proud of what Richard has achieved and can’t wait for the audience’s reaction to him.