The sound of a police siren plays off stage.
Jonty Stephens’ Morcambe gazes off to the wings, immediately transporting our imagination to Morcambe and Wise’s shared bedroom – “He won’t sell much ice cream going at that speed!”
The audience erupts in to peels of laughter!
“It’s as if they knew what I was going to say,” he gestures to the audience.
”..and some of them even said it for you!” Replies Ian Ashpitel’s Ernie Wise.
It is a wonderful feeling, being sat in a theatre, laughing along with every other member of the audience, drawn together by nostalgia for the timeless comedy of Morcambe and Wise.
Eric and Ern were no strangers to the stage at the New Theatre, having appeared in variety in 1950 and made several return appearances, including week-long appearances at the peak of their television fame in 1968 and 1973.
Sitting in the beautiful auditorium at the New Theatre on Wednesday night, it doesn’t take leap of imagination to believe that you are watching, arguably, the best comedy duo the UK has ever produced, at the top of their game!
The performances of Ian Ashpitel as Ernie Wise and Jonty Stephens as Eric Morcambe go far beyond the replica Morcambe glasses and matching suits. It is obvious as they banter backward and forward seamlessly that they have spent countless hours studying, not only the routines which are performed with perfect comic timing, but the warmth and relationship between the boys.
The stage set is simple, with only a telephone table (complete with rotary phone, used to great comic effect as the rings continue once the receiver is lifted) and a small grand piano on stage. In the hands of lesser performers the 2-hour show might be in danger of feeling static, but not with these two! The comedy routines come thick and fast featuring so many classic moments which the audience adore, from ‘Mr Memory’ (*cough*, ‘Arsenal’!) to Grieg’s Piano Concerto (with fitting round of applause for Andrew Pre-view!), punctuated by some of their best-loved musical numbers (complete with dance routines) – I for one found it hard not singing along!
Joining the boys on stage (with only two hours rehearsal!) was the very talented local performer Stephanie Webber. Dressed in elegant evening gown, in the best tradition of Morcambe and Wise Guest stars, she hadn’t yet been paid, but performed ‘Send in the Clowns’, with Stephens and Ashpital disguised as clowns, doing a fantastic balloon modelling routine in the background!
Webber deserves extra commendation for battling on, her beautiful voice reaching the back rows without the aid of a microphone (until Stephens stepped forward to switch it on, earning Webber an extra round of applause). She returned later in the programme to perform Cilla Black’s ‘You’re my world’, this time without interruption.
As a fan of Morcambe and Wise, it always disappointed me that I hadn’t had the chance to catch the boys live. However the precision, dedication and love with which Stephens and Ashpitel portray the best of Morcambe and Wise, I feel as though I now have.
Ending the performance with their best-loved song ‘Bring Me Sunshine’, in white top-hats and tails, was the icing on the cake.
To paraphrase Morcambe- ‘What do you think of it so far…?’ Amazing!
Eric and Ern is on tour across the UK – more information can be found at