Writer: Tim Whitnall
Director: Keith Gallois
‘So, tell me, grandad – we’re queuing for a show celebrating one of a two-man, allegedly, iconic comedy-act, who riffed on the conceit of the anarchic jester feeding off the foolish foil…and they did TV sketches sharing a double-bed? If they’ve already pulled It Ain’t Half Hot Mum and Fawlty Towers off the telly, how come you’re taking me, an already vulnerable 16-year-old, to a show that might possibly impact on my options about gender confusions?’
’Pipe-down (Wa-hey!) watch, listen and learn – National Treasure doesn’t just mean winning the lottery – though, by the end of this show you’ll think you have.’
Some stats: 90 minutes long, thirty characters brought alive, not least, ’I’ll be the best ‘Feed’ man in the World’, foil to Eric’s clown, little, a very little, Ernie Wise, empowered in the guise of a ventriloquist’s manikin – many in the audience already in on the joke – ‘What do you think of it so far? Ruggish!’ Eric didn’t do too well at school but his incredibly supportive parents promised him an air-gun if he won a Talent Contest: ‘I can’t tell you where the Red Sea is, but I know why the chicken crossed the road!’ Bang bang. Knock’em dead!
If the heartfelt endorsement of the late Roy Castle’s wife, Fiona, isn’t a good enough reason to see the show – look away now. Eric introduced them to an eon of loving marriage. Or, just perhaps like that vein of gold comedic stream of disconsolate, begging-bowl, phantom characters, Peter Cushing et al, she just wants to get paid her walk-on fee.
One-man-show extraordinaire, Richard Dodd, grabs Tim Withnall’s un-edited original text, by the scruff of its neck and gives it an adrenalin rush. The text’s lyrical originality no doubt having been enhanced by the ever-present ghosts of the dynamic duo, either tapping a smoker’s pipe or the latest play-script wot’s ever been wrote, over his shoulder,
Dodd’s a show-stealer, wheeler-dealer of inimitable jokers’- cards with endless punch-lines and dead-pan pay-offs. The thief of good and bad gags. An Odyssey of razor-honed immersive characterisation, as intoxicating as being drowned in a wine-dark sea of nostalgia-soaked comic genius. He nails the persona tighter than Noah did the Ark the night before the rains fell.
Hark back then when larks were abundant in the Christmas Past, before the ennui present-day of kaleidoscope multi-media platforms and family fragmentation. More than twenty-four million viewers would share the Morecambe and Wise Christmas Day Special, little short of half the population. Even the Queen ‘turned-over’ for it.
Dodd has immersed himself in the role with uncanny authenticity, not just the machine-gun patter and giggle-fest frivolity. The tic and time-honed mannerisms are projected as though an avuncular avatar has possessed him. The set-pieces roll out off pat – the imaginary projectile caught in the paper-bag routine, the fumbling urgency behind the closed curtains, the frenzied back of the neck slaps, the inevitable, ‘What do you think of it so far?’ wind-up. An astonishing distillation of character, disingenuously audience-teasing confident, manipulatively mischievous exhaling bombardments of laughing-gas lines that, within an eye-twinkle moment, can hold the theatre momentarily spell-bound within a vignette of autobiographical pathos.
Seen through rose-tinted spectacles of an age of comedy less cynical and agenda-driven gone by (replica specs donated by Eric’s original supplier, one Mr Oliver Goldsmith) this ‘gottle-of-gear’ gone to the head giddy tour de force majeure is a superlative celebration of a polymath master of mirth and modesty. As for Richard Dodd, ladies and gentlemen, Eric Morcambe is not only in the building – he is on-stage, unbelievably, but it is so, before you. And shssh!…listen, hear the ghost of Andre Previn trembling.
If Viva Theatre Producer, Director Keith Gallois’, preview run of this lyrical, sides-ache, heartbreak beauty-spots n’ all, biographical bonanza doesn’t grab The Edinburgh Fringe by the fun-horns then they’d better like it – not a lot – but utterly, scrumptiously a lot, lot more. (Arsenal).