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Review of Eric And Little Ern at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

Eric And Little Ern is one of those shows that you leave with glorious nostalgic feeling, especially for anyone who grew up sitting down to watch those annual Christmas shows (which is potentially everyone as their star is always with us). I am technically not quite old enough to really remember seeing a live first screening of the show, but for me growing up in the eighties and nineties, Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise were always there, although  I think I enjoyed The Two Ronnies better at the time. Eric and Ernie's shows maybe have dated better though and maintain that BBC2 slot on regular occasions.

Ian Ashpitel (Ernie Wise) and Jonty Stephens (Eric Morecambe) bring those two stars back to vivid life with their superb performances in Eric And Little Ern. What they have created (as indeed these two are both creators and performers) is a sweet little play of two halves. The first, a loving and incredibly moving at times act of part biography and part endless joke factory from Morecambe. The second, a short but sweet full act in front of the classic big curtain.

The first act is clearly the best as it brings something new which the often seen performance of the second half cannot. Wise is in hospital towards the end of his life and is visited by his doctor. However this is no ordinary doctor reading his notes and prodding at the medical equipment, this is Morecambe returned in full body and frantic movement for his lifelong friends final days. The whole of the act is generally a long and moving conversation between the two, a reminiscing of old times. Interspersed with this is Morecambe doing his trademark quipping and classic jokes or indeed a near full sketch from the archives. The Grieg Piano Concerto sketch is faithfully replayed with Stephens getting Morecambe's classic gangly, lolloping procession to the piano to a tee. This scene like many works the set by Simon Scullion well, with placement of props and triggers for jokes placed around the stage depicting Wise's hospital room.

Ashpitel and Stephens are superb throughout with their depictions of mannerisms honed to near perfection, particularly Stephens, who by default has the most characteristics to depict. The first act coupled with the second full comedy routine have the jukebox greatest hits on display from face slapping, singing and dancing and the old paper bag trick. They even manage to involve the audience successfully at times in true comedy style.

The audience itself on the afternoon I attended was sadly not full (although the evening was near sold out), but it was fascinating to see such a demographic of people. Its true that the majority of the audience was beyond the 50 mark (I myself had my father in tow, who had seen the real thing in Northampton back in the sixties), but there was also a good number of us younger people as well, and this told the tail that Morecambe and Wise are, and always will be timeless.

Eric And Little Ern is truly a loving tribute, performed in style and leaves a warm glow to the heart and I would heartily recommend to all.

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Performance viewed: Saturday 8th November, 2014 at the Royal & Derngate (Royal).

Eric And Little Ern is currently on tour until 2nd December, 2014 and details of venues can be found at their website at http://www.ericandlittleern.com/



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