Thursday, February 29

Eric & Ern – Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

It was difficult to suppress a chuckle simply taking in the set. That sofa, for those of us of a certain vintage, the telephone (Daddy, what were they for in the olden days?) and… The Bed! With no sign of a kitchen one feared – correctly as it turned out – that this would be free of pop-up toast routines. Of Des O’Connor mentions, famous catchphrases and legendary sketches it was not. Never mind how ‘of its era’ it was (20 million+ viewers for the Christmas Specials in 1977 and 1978), this production underlined how enduring the scripts have proved. As has – faithfully captured by Jonty Stephens (Eric) and Ian Ashpitel (Ern) – the stagecraft, timing and theatricality necessary to execute them. In less safe hands a quip about watching a three-foot high person swallow a four-foot sword might have clattered horizontally. The movement, tics, mannerisms and accents of the beloved duo were expertly reproduced by a couple of performers who, while not just excellent at their day-jobs, had clearly studied and practised their roles with a deal of devotion and care. It was – almost – like the real thing.

A sketch from The Bed finessed with the immortal observation regarding a speeding ambulance ‘he’ll never sell any ice cream driving that fast’, the ‘Stripper’ dance, followed by the ruination of singer Sinéad Wall’s rendition of ‘Send In The Clowns’ were fine but somehow, at half-time one felt merely treated to a series of comedy ‘cover versions’. However…

The second half began with the ventriloquist sketch, point-blank completely hilarious. Traces of improvisation and the odd ad-lib were detectable, elements of bawdiness and innuendo more obvious. The to-and-fro between the performers and the rapport with the audience grew. Mr Memory came on, the ‘Arsenal’ cough prompting a smatter of audience participation, and then The Grand Piano, Mr Andre Preview, the ‘right notes, not necessarily in the right order’ speech- let and the ultimate sing-along euphoria of ‘Bring Me Sunshine’. One felt guilty for having half-time doubts, for rather like the Rick Astley & Blossoms recent Smiths gigs, this shouldn’t be classed as mere theatre, more like essential therapy.

Reviewer: Roger Jacobs

Reviewed: 15th November 2021

North West End UK Rating: ★★★