FROM THE NATIONAL TOUR SPRING 2010
Liverpool Playhouse 09/03/2010
IN the programme notes for Morecambe, actor Bob Golding modestly suggests: 'Nobody could match his timing, delivery, natural rhythm, his complete dedication and pure love of simply making folk laugh.'
But the actor certainly comes close with a relentlessly energetic performance of both joy and poignancy that has garnered him - and the show - well-deserved Olivier Award nominations.
Golding takes writer Tim Whitnall's terrific script and breathes the impish John Eric Bartholomew into the core of it.
This isn't an impersonation as such, more a warm-hearted homage to the entertainer.
Yet there's much about Golding's performance that evokes the lanky Lancastrian.
First there's the voice, which becomes increasingly (and uncannily) 'Eric' the more excitable he gets. Wa-hey!
Then there are the Morecambe mannerisms - the comedy clenching of pipe between teeth, the pushing up of the glasses, the twinkle-eyed double take - which stay comfortably and carefully on the right side of arch and camply overblown.
It helps that the audience is not just with him but often one step ahead, and Golding has learned to allow for the knowing laughs and the occasional chorused punchlines which inevitably come when you evoke a double act that's so ingrained in the nation's DNA.
Because although it may be Eric Bartholomew's name up in lights, this one-man show is really a two-man celebration.
On the face of it the fact Ernie, the 'Mickey Rooney of Leeds', is played by a ventriloquist dummy could seem somewhat derogatory, but in practice director Guy Masterson has created a delightfully charming partnership which emphasises the loving bond the showbiz pair forged in a partnership which lasted 43 years.
For Liverpool audiences there are some local resonances in this retelling of Eric's life too. As a teen he won a talent competition at the Kingsway cinema in Hoylake which led to an audition for Jack Hylton, while 'Bartholomew and Wise' made their first ever appearance together at the Liverpool Empire back in 1941.
And of course in the 60s they had the Fabs - John, Paul, George and Bongo, on their TV show.
There were a few minor sound issues last night. But nothing can detract from the irresistible pleasure of this tribute to a true British treasure. (Catherine Jones - Liverpool Echo, 09/03/2010)
Taliesin Arts Centre, Swansea 24/13/2010
The opening moments of this beautifully written and smartly staged one-man show starring Bob Golding, who succeeds in the seemingly impossible task of stepping into the shoes of a figure who was one half of Britain's best loved comedy partnerships - is almost Dylan Thomas-like in its phrasing and descriptive power, describing as it does the background and character of the late great Eric Morecambe and the people and events that shaped his destiny at a young age.
The Dylan connection is perhaps unsurprising, as director Guy Masterson has extensive experience of performing in as well as well as directing one-man plays revolving around the writings of Swansea's most famous literary lion. But how, one asks oneself, can the life and career of a determinedly mainstream television entertainer be turned into a piece of theatre with enough emotional impact, depth and class to appeal to those who would normally eschew all notions of watching what is so often misguidedly perceived to be "low brow", populist television (we've all met 'em, folks - the ones who claim never to watch TV except for the likes of Panorama and The Wire)?
Well, attempting to satisfy both sides of the theatregoing coin is certainly a Herculean task, but Masterson, Golding and playwright Tim Whitnall have risen to the challenge and come up with a work which has to rate as one of the most uplifting, moving, cathartic and - perhaps more importantly - funniest pieces of theatre that I have seen in many a long year.
We first encounter Morecambe when he walks through the plush red curtains, surrounded by a proscenium arch set decorated with Magritte-style clouds painted on a pale blue sky (thereby signifying that we are in otherworldly territory)and wearing the flat cap and long coat that he would don at the end of every edition of The Morecambe and Wise Show to signify that he was heading for home.
As the minutes tick by, we are transported into Morecambe's past. We accomapny him as he rises from his beginnings as a young lad, earning a crust with routines such as the one where he sings "I'm Not All There" to appreciative audiences, to his meeting with the young Ernest Wiseman, a star in the ascendant who is taken under the wing of Eric's kindly mother Sadie.
Along the way we encounter stellar names in the world of entertainment, from impresario Jack Hylton right through to TV producer john Ammonds, via Vivian Van Damm(of Windmill Theatre fame), Billy Marsh, Lew Grade and of course legendary scriptwriter Eddie Braben, who turned Morecambe and Wise from entertainers into what would now be called superstars just as surely as Galton and Simpson did for Tony Hancock just a few years before.
Golding's evocation of Morecambe is uncanny, such is his mastery of the comedian's vocal style, rhythms and cadences and mannerisms: everything is spot on - the rocking back on the heel, the double-takes, the hand gestures. It's all there.
The laughs come thick and fast, but so do the moments of genuine poignancy in which
Eric professes his friendship for Ernie(represented here as a ventriloquist's dummy into which Golding breathes life)and his love for his mother: a scene in which Sadie passes away before his eyes, having waited for him to come home, is guaranteed to bring tears to the eyes, such is its power.
Anecdotes which might be familiar to self-confessed anoraks such as myself such as the one in which a man who drives him to hospital following his heart attack and asks him to sign his autograph with the words, "Before you go..." are all brilliantly retold here, and it is little wonder that the Taliesin audience reacted with such affection to Golding's bravura performance.
A superlative piece of theatre, and one which prompted a spontaneous standing ovation in which I am proud to say that I participated, this is a tremendous theatrical work which thoroughly deserves its award-winning status. (Graham Williams - Swansea Evening Post 20/03/10)
From the West End Run - Duchess Theatre, 09/12/09 - 17/01/10
This new one-man show about the late, great Eric Morcambe glows with affection and proves an utter delight.
Never mind writing a prescription for Prozac. Doctors should be able to dispense free tickets for Morecambe to the depressed.
I have rarely experienced a warmer, funnier or more touching one-man show. There isn't a moment of malice in it, not a second of boredom. In a tour-de-force performance that never seems flashy or self-advertising, Bob Golding somehow becomes the reincarnation of the most universally loved of British comedians.
Edinburgh Fringe: Look, no audienceHe gives us the life story, the gags, the highs and lows of a career that ended backstage at a theatre in Tewkesbury in 1984 when Eric Morecambe suffered his final heart attack and died, far too young, at 58.
In fact the show, written by Tim Whitnall, actually begins with news of his death. The next thing we see is Eric peering through the curtains with that famously glassy grin on his face, having just arrived in some heavenly dressing room. There's a chaise-longue, a bottle of Scotch - "Johnnie Walker, I know him well, makes you see double and act single" and a props basket containing a ventriloquist's dummy version of Ernie Wise.
This last device might sound disrespectful to Ernie, but in fact the show makes it crystal clear how much Eric respected and relied on his partner through a career together spanning 43 years that began when they met as juveniles.
For showbiz junkies like me, the evocation of music halls and variety bills, of characters like the agent Billy Marsh and the impresario Lew Grade, and of the young Eric and Ernie trying to make the punters laugh at the Windmill when all the audience wanted to do was ogle the naked girls, proves pure delight.
It took Morecambe and Wise a long time to reach the top. At the age of 30, Morecambe, always a worrier, feared they were washed up after a dire TV show in which a critic defined television "as the box in which they buried Morecambe and Wise". Eric kept the cutting in his wallet for the rest of his life.
There are moving descriptions of Eric's love for his wife Joan - even if he did describe her as having "the legs of a nightingale and the voice of an ostrich" - and of the heart attacks that blighted his life and cut short his career. When Des O'Connor heard about Morecambe's first serious attack he stopped the show he was appearing in asked the entire audience to pray for him. Later Eric thanked him. "It was the prayers of those six or seven people that made all the difference," he quipped.
Much of the show's pleasure depends on its comforting familiarity - the paper bag trick and the false-leg gag, the catchphrases and the one-liners - but what makes it such a winner is its generous heart. Golding clearly loves his subject and it is a feeling shared by the entire house.
This is a show that will bring sunshine into the lives of all who see it. (Charles Spencer 15/12/09)
You can't imagine Eric Morecambe leaving lubricious messages on an elderly actor's answering machine, or sharing dubiously funny details of his depression, or splattering the stalls with four-letter words. He lived at a less abrasive time and showed it, exuding a droll innocence that could, I suppose, cause problems for Bob Golding, the actor embodying him at the Duchess. Isn't a one-man show about a personally happy, if professionally driven, comedian bound to seem bland, even sentimental, in the Britain of 2009?
Not to me or to the audience that gave Golding a standing ovation on opening night. Maybe I am prejudiced, because years ago my wife and I had supper in Blackpool with Eric and Ernie Wise - the comical confrère who appears at the Duchess as a small, smiling puppet - and more unassuming, effortlessly friendly men you could not hope to meet. Is Tim Whitnall, author of Morecambe, supposed to distort a life that comes without the baggage that is almost mandatory for comedians to carry? There were no drink problems, no breakdowns, no divorces, no scandals, no rages and no rows with Wise, except a tiny one at the start of their 40-year partnership. Audiences sensed that Eric was at ease in his own spacious skin and saw him as the good-natured bloke whom they wished was living next door - and why not?
You would call Golding's impersonation uncanny if were not so cannily observed. He catches the gleeful somersaults of that North Country voice, the big grin under the school-swot glasses, such trademark mannerisms as absently fiddling with those specs while they are still on his nose, the exuberantly silly walks, but above all a delighted pride in the sheer sound of the laughter that he had managed to generate. Yes, there were times in the early days when he and Wise did not provoke too much of it; they did not please the resident onanists when they played the Windmill, their debut on the box was a disaster and their attempt to conquer America a flop. But they survived all that to attract an audience of more than 28 million for their Christmas television show in 1977.
Whitnall's neatly honed script takes us from their meeting as teenagers - they once chastely shared a bed - to that famous triumph and on to the last of Morecambe's heart attacks in 1984. Sometimes switching voices - a genial Bruce Forsyth here, a commanding Lew Grade there - Golding also gives us plenty of nicely timed jokes. From another mouth, the one about giving the wife a coat of hamster fur, taking her to Blackpool, and being unable to get her off the big wheel, might seem cutely whimsical or worse. From Golding such cracks are surely what they were from the master himself: hilarious. (Dominic Nightingale - The Times, 11/12/09)
Morecambe and Wise are among the best beloved acts from Britain's comic heritage. Their 1977 Christmas special on the BBC drew a record audience of over 28m viewers, and their shows are still among the few Christmas reruns we do not complain about. Now the West End welcomes one of the successes of this year's Edinburgh Fringe in Bob Golding's solo portrayal of Eric Morecambe.
Morecambe's life was not the stuff of drama. He and Ernie Wise loved each other like brothers for over 40 years; his family life was just as warm; he liked a drink but was far from a problem alcoholic like, for instance, Charles Hawtrey (also, by coincidence, currently being portrayed on a London stage in a solo biographical show). And yet the duo are held in such high affection that Morecambe will prove virtually critic-proof.
I have seen a number of actors draw a round of applause merely on their entrance, but I never imagined the same accolade could be accorded to a brown paper bag; yet as soon as Golding produced it, delighted clapping broke out in anticipation of the daft little catching-the-invisible-object-in-the-bag trick that was one of Morecambe's signature sillinesses. As a nation, we cherish the silly, and Morecambe was one of its archangels.
Tim Whitnall's play is a fairly straight trot through Morecambe's biography: young Eric Bartholomew working his way up from local gigs around his home town of Morecambe, breaking into the variety circuit, finding his youthful rivalry with Ernest Wiseman transformed into the firmest of partnerships, a disastrous first television appearance, retrenchment in live work, success on the second attempt at cracking TV, ultimately becoming a national institution, and a Stakhanovite work pace leading to heart attacks in middle age, the third one fatal.
Golding has the Morecambe look, sound and mannerisms down pat, and gets real dramatic value as well as absurdity out of conversing with a real 'little Ern', a ventriloquist's dummy representing Wise.
And there is poignancy, but not too much: the show's finale may be a schmaltzy musical number such as the pair always included, but he goes out on another of his classic laugh lines. An unpretentious heartwarmer. What do you think of it so far? Not rubbish, by any means. (Ian Shuttleworth - Fincancial Times, 15/12/09)
There's not much conflict in the life and career of Eric Morecambe to make for a great drama - he was joyous, happily married, hard-working and reaped the rewards. So for this one-man show, which proved a hit at the Edinbugh Festival earlier this year, directlor Guy Masterson and writer Tim Whitnall have kept things simple by offering up a heartfelt, chronologically-told biography where the mood is very much of celbration.
Bob Golding plays the man with the horn rimmed glasses and funny walk and his performance is exquisite, leading us from humble tap-dancing child to much loved family entertainer who dominated theTV schedules until hi third fatal heart attack in 1984.
Golding's recreation is mischievous, spirited and transporting (though it helps that he bears an uncanny physical likelness). And, more importantly, his timing is perfect - no mean feat when he has to race through famous one-liners, ("sofa so good", etc), silly tricks (including the crowd-pleasing ball and paper-bag) and other characters of the day - among them Bruse Forsyth, Des O'Connor, and showbiz mogul Lew Grade - at breathtaking speed.
This is a thorougly enjoyable hark-back to Variety Hall-Era entertainment, and a leading light who truly lived by the maxim that the best of their kind did't just make you laugh, but made you care. (Sharon Lougher - Metro 14/12/09)
Morcambe and Wise...a comic duo as supremely British as fish and chips, Blackpool donkey rides, pints in shabby old pubs and the often inaccurate weather forecasts.
They were forged in the great tradition of the music hall and their television shows attracted millions. Their catchphrases even entered the language - do you remember 'More tea, Ern?', and 'What Do You Think of it So Far? Rubbish'
It all ended in 1984 when Eric Morecambe suffered a vicious heart attack and died soon after coming off stage, aged only 58.
Now, rather eerily, he has been resurrected by a brilliant impersonator, Bob Golding, in a show that was a hit at the Edinburgh Festival and which celebrates Morecambe's life, from wartime conscription, down the coalmines, to his transformation, with Ernie Wise, into a genuine national treasure.
Here was humour that was funny, clean and did not rely on four-letter words (unlike today's Jimmy Carr, or the odious Russell Brand).
Using a small ventriloquist's doll as Ernie, Bob Golding brings their relationship alive.
They became one person and their humour developed naturally. Golding achieves this smoothly, stressing the inter-dependence. (After Morecambe died, Ernie Wise told me in an interview: 'I'm like a ship without a rudder now.')
The writer Tim Whitnall and director Guy Masterson have trodden a fine and vital line between turning the show into just another funny act or letting it drift helplessly into tragedy.
Bob Golding sounds exactly like the late Morecambe with all the inflections in the right places. And then there is the funny walk, the jiggling of his horn rims and the endless face-pulling. It is certainly a remarkable performance and quite moving in its accuracy.
But, above all, Golding manages to catch exactly Morecambe's greatest gift - his timing. He also takes us on a journey of ambition from when the duo played in beery working men's clubs, seedy provincial theatres and even the dreaded Glasgow Empire.
And we sense the full disappointment the two experienced when their early TV shows flopped ('Television - the box in which they buried Morecambe and Wise').
The drama comes when Morecambe suffers his heart attacks - and there are even jokes then. But the sadness at the end was, I fear, just a little too mawkish when Morecambe changes into white evening dress, presumably for the Big Heavenly Gig. Not much of a joke there. (Paul Callan - Daily Telegraph 11/12/09)
Tonight's final of The X Factor is likely to be the biggest TV event of the year but it seems to divide as much as unite the public. By contrast, Christmas never used to be Christmas without the Morecambe and wise special, which brought the nation together like nothing before or since: in 1977, more than 28million viewers, half the entire population of the UK, watched the show.
Thirty-two years later and a quarter of a century since Morecambe's death at the age of 58, are they held in the same affection today? on the basis of Morecambe, a warm, gentle one-man show devoted to Eric (and in which Ernie is less generously represented only by a ventriloquist's dummy), the answer is a resounding yes.
It reincarnates not just some hoary old gags and beloved routines but, as brilliantly embodied by Bob Golding, also the spirit and kind essence of the man. (Mark Shenton - Sunday Express, 13/12/09)
Who better to bring you sunshine in these bleak, wintry days than the great Eric Morecambe? One of the biggest hits of this year's Edinburgh fringe, Morecambe offered all the ingredients for theatrical success, combining a subject with a ready-made, devoted following, a sharp, pacey script by Tim Whitnall constructed around classic Morecambe and Wise gags, and a truly outstanding central performance by Bob Golding, whose likeness to Eric in the smallest gesture is at times so startling as to send a shiver up your spine.
But Guy Masterson's production is far richer than a mere sustained impersonation. Drawing on previously unpublished family letters, Morecambe revisits some of the darker moments that were forgotten as the duo's legend grew: the dismal 10-minute slots at seedy Soho clubs; the misery of Eric's national service in the coal mines, where his later health problems began; the universal panning of their television debut ("Definition of television: the box in which they buried Morecambe and Wise," read one review); their failure to conquer America.
These shadows offer a deeper perspective on the man best remembered for the funny walks, the dances, the wiggle of the glasses and the infectious giggle, but the tone is, naturally, celebratory, particularly of the relationships that defined his life - first with his mother, Sadie, whose self-sacrifice and determination pushed him on to the stage, then with his partner of more than 40 years, Ernie Wise. The decision to represent Wise as a ventriloquist's doll on Morecambe's arm perhaps risked belittling Ernie, but the effect is endearing, while leaving the spotlight firmly on Eric, as it always was.
Golding is sufficiently at home in Eric's skin to adlib in character - when the audience bursts into pre-emptive laughter at the mere sight of a paper bag, he quips: "You don't know what I'm going to do yet" - and over almost two hours he fully earns his standing ovation.
Yet it's clear that at least part of this heartfelt applause is meant for the man he has so lovingly brought back to life. The show, and Golding himself, acknowledges this profound and enduring affection for Eric Morecambe who, even at second hand, remains not just an iconic stage presence but has come to embody a nostalgia for a more innocent, less cynical age.
One of the secrets of Morecambe and Wise's onstage chemistry, the show suggests, was their long familiarity with one another. (Stephanie Merrit - The Observer, 13/12/09)
"You would have to have a heart of stone not to warm to this genial and artless one-man show, a trip down memory lane and into the life and times of one half of the double act, Morecambe and Wise, who for more than 40 years brought a little sunshine into our damp, grey lives. Ernie Wise is affectionately represented throughout as a miniature smiling dummy, but as the show makes clear, it was his business acumen and generosity that made the partnership work: everything earned was split down the middle, it didn't matter who got the laugh. It was also founded on hard work, and not a little luck.
The work meant endless practice: four frenzied weeks to get a bare four minutes of material; years of graft to hone 10 minutes. But happenstance played a part in their rise to fame, too: they were lucky enough to arrive on the prewar scene when there were still enough Alhambras and Hippodromes to hone their talent at the bottom of the bill, before rising to the top just at that moment when TV was taking off and there were only two channels to watch. More than half the population tuned into one of their Christmas specials, although the pair's first TV appearance was a crushing disaster.
Their popularity is conveyed in Tim Whitnall's cunningly constructed script, which seamlessly mixes biography and gags, and Bob Golding's winning performance. You feel that he might not be acting but actually channelling Morecambe. It's a wonderful turn, which is based less on a passing physical resemblance, and much more on capturing his stage persona, a man entirely without side who retained a quick-witted innocence and wide-eyed wonder at the world even into middle-age. There is something almost joyful about the evening that honours Morecambe without embalming him.
This is probably a niche show for a niche audience, and at almost two hours, it feels over-stretched, particularly in the second half that loses momentum after the unnecessary interval. There is a limit to how many mother-in-law jokes that one show can support. But this is neatly packaged nostalgia providing the kind of family entertainment that Morecambe and Wise purveyed, and a reminder of a far more innocent era when comics smiled rather than snarled and audiences smiled back." (Lynn Gardner - The Guardian, 11/12/09)
Tommy Cooper, Spike Milligan, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, and now Eric Morecambe - it's hard to imagine who of our current crop of popular comedians will be honoured with a posthumous West End play.
Of all, Morecambe was undoubtedly the most loved. The Christmas show in 1983 attracted more than 28 million viewers - half the country. Every British person aged 30 and over will have fond memories of Morecambe and Wise.
And in this fabulous two hours of wall to wall entertainment, writer Tim Whitnall and performer Bob Golding have managed to alchemise some of the magic of Morecambe's performance.
The script is loaded with gags, the quick one-liners that the audience joyously recalls. "I am playing all the right notes " says Morecambe. "But not necessarily in the right order," the audience parrots back.
It is also artfully constructed. Otherwise lengthy pieces of exposition, such as when Morecambe, as plain Eric Bartholomew, is making a name of himself on the northern variety circuit, are given a poetic rhythm that carries them and the audience along. Other times, Golding plays other characters - his Bruce Forsyth is possibly even better than his Morecambe - who serve to keep the plot going in the right direction.
But it is Golding who adds the final magic to the script. Guy Masterson, whose direction is exquisite here, says Golding was born to play Morecambe. And he was (and Alan Carr at a push). His mannerisms, speech patterns, even ad libs capture perfectly the spirit of the man. The memories of sitting sated on Christmas Day in front of the nation's favourite comedy duo come flooding back.
But he also manages the pathos well - when Morecambe's parents die, when the press savages their first BBC appearance, their failure to crack America, his battles with a dodgy ticker ("Keep going, you fool!") gently lift and drop the audience. But Morecambe was never vicious on stage or off it and these are more hillocks than the roller coaster ride of, say, Milligan's life.
For fans of theatre, there is talk of Moss Empires, the Variety Artistes Federation, Lew Grade and the memory of a way of theatrical life that has long since gone. And with it, it seems, comedians who can truly call themselves the nation's favourite. (Jeremy Austin - The Stage, 11/12/09)
"This is the life of John Eric Bartholomew encapsulated into less than two hours (including interval) and it is told as though by the man himself, played by Bob Golding. Bartholomew was an entertainer, a performer from boyhood. As a lad he won a talent contest that gained him an audition with Jack Hylton where he first encountered another budding talent called Ernest Wise. They worked together soon after and became fast friends who began to develop a double act, launched in 1940 (when John was 14) as Bartholomew and Wiseman.
Split by war service - Wiseman in the Merchant Navy, Bartholomew down the mines as a Bevin Boy - they teamed up again after the war. But Bartholomew and Wise did not have the right ring to draw in the punters and so Bartholomew changed his name to that of his home town. As Morecambe and Wise they became famous - but it was not all easy going and this is a tale of set backs as well as success.
Bob Golding does have a likeness to Eric Morecambe and has clearly studied his vocal and physical performance but this is no impersonation. He makes the material and the manner seem entirely his own s well as offering the essence of Eric. With a personality so loved by the public the show, of course, is carried on the affection of the audience for a much missed funny man but this charismatic performance would still be a tremendously enjoyable show even if the character was entirely fictional.
Tim Whitnall's script covers Morecambe's entire career from his first appearances on stage when a little boy and handles the set backs and heart attacks as he might himself have done: Gary Morecambe, writing about his father, says that, even in private, Eric never dropped his comic persona; he always felt the need to entertain. However, in the midst of the laughter you catch your breathe at the poignancy of some moments.
Inevitably this is not the story of just one man but of two and Ernie Wise is present in the form of a ventriloquist's dummy, voiced by Golding. These were partners who agreed always to split what they earned between them and never to worry about who it was that got the laughs. When Morecambe was recovering from his first heart attack Wise went on working as a solo act but still sent half his earnings on to his partner. The closeness of that relationship is celebrated as much as Morecambe himself, never more touchingly than when Eric returns the dummy to its home in a wardrobe basket. . Bob Golding also plays every other character in their story from Eric's mum to Jack Hylton, Lew Grade to Bruce Forsyth.
Designer Julia Bunce has set it simply with a red chaise longue in front of a curtained gilt proscenium arch that is a constant reminder of the variety stages on which Morecambe honed his talent and gave pleasure to millions, the theatres to which he continually returned - and not just because it was a way of refilling the coffers.
Director Guy Masterson, who developed the show with writer and performer, shows yet again his genius for directing one man shows. I don't know how many actual gags and business are taken directly from Morecambe and Wise's actual material but he has caught the spirit of their work in this production. In references to some of those performers who guested on their later television shows - from Glenda Jack-on to Shirley Bassey - the effect relies very much on the audience's own memories. Morecambe died 25 years ago - this could be considered a quarter century memorial tribute - but their television highlights have made them familiar to later generations and if those memories aren't yours it's only a tiny part of the material. Glimpses of agents and television magnates Hylton and Grade will mean much more to those who know about them but you don't have to know your show-biz history to get the point. This is a show that bubbles with life and laughter. When I saw it the audience stood as one to applaud it. (Howard Loxton - British Theatre Guide, 10/12/09)
From the moment Bob Golding, as Eric Morecambe, whips a dust sheet off a chaise-longue and declares "sofa, so good," he has started as he means to go on.
So begins this one-man show about the British comedian who died 25 years ago, leaving a comedy legacy that is resurrected here by Golding, who, with a waggle of Morecambe's trademark glasses, expertly revives the old fashioned quick-fire gags, rapid delivery, distinctive body language and sunny disposition that made the comedian so loved.
The show starts with the news announcement of Morecambe's death, of a heart attack, in 1984 when he and comedy partner Ernie Wise were the most popular comedians in Britain. We all know how it ended, but perhaps not how it began, and so Tim Whitnall's play takes us back to the beginning, when Eric Bartholomew, to give his real name, first began cracking jokes in talent contests as a teen in Morecambe, the Lancashire town where he was born and which provided his stage name.
At lightening speed Golding takes us through Morecambe's biography, embodying both the comic himself and all the people relevant to his story: his parents, agents, producers, commissioners. We hear about him meeting Ernie Wise, going through National Service during the war - which he was dismissed from early due to the heart condition that would eventually kill him - we see the duo's beginning on the comedy circuit, their disastrous TV debut and then the gradual rise to success with their own television series, guest spots on America's Ed Sullivan Show and Christmas specials that half the UK tuned in to watch.
This popularity is obvious from the extent to which the audience remembers Morecambe's gags 25 years after his death. Last night all it took was the sight of a paper bag to have the audience in fits of laughter, knowing that one of Morecambe's most famous jokes was to follow. As he mocks Des O'Connor, introduces The Beatles and sings Bring Me Sunshine it is clear that affection for the comic has not waned since his death.
Of course Morecambe was just one half of the partnership. Ernie Wise is here depicted as a ventriloquist's dummy, which is not as derogatory as it sounds. Instead it seems to imply that the pair were glued together, that one did not function without the other, and also references the fact that Ernie was the straight man who made Eric's gags fly.
As Whitnall's play progresses the inevitable demise of the comic creeps up, imbuing the show with pathos and poignancy. The famous partnership may have come to a sad end in 1984, but Golding has brought a little of Morecambe's sunshine back into the West End. (CB - 12/12/09)
"You'll excuse me if I use some of the same lines to describe the West End version of Morecambe as I did when it was an Edinburgh hit back in the summer. After all, this affectionate biography is a show that thrives so much on old jokes that even a glimpse of a brown paper bag has the audience giggling in anticipation of one of Eric's most famous visual gags.
On nostalgia value alone, the show is likely to run and run. Eric Morecambe is an icon of a halcyon era of cheery civility that probably never really existed, yet is still remembered with the sort of fondness that will keep the box office busy, never mind the quality of the production.
It's a relief, then, that it turns out to be a wonderful night out, with Eric's straightforward biography brought to life through effective but subtle theatrical flourishes.
In a star-making performance, the excellent Bob Golding has Eric down to a T, Ern - not so much in looks but in personality; radiating out such an intense warmth that every line, however corny, is filled with joy. He's upbeat through the slog of the early years, climbing up variety bills, staying in flea-ridden guest houses, making a potentially career-killing TV debut, and being knocked back by America, recounting each setback with a cheeky glint in his eye.
The act seems to have survived through a combination of Morecambe's charisma and Ernie Wise's determination, and the strength of their relationship is certainly on display here, even if poor Ern is reduced to a ventriloquist's dummy. But it's testament to Golding's skill that this lump of wood has more personality than a lot of human West End stars, even though he's no ventriloquist.
Golding similarly slips into all manner of names from variety's golden age, from agent Billy Marsh to a sublime Bruce Forsyth. The opening night showbuisiness crowd seemed to recognise a lot more of the backstage figures than I did, but the mini-characterisations are effective on their own, making it seem very crowded for a one-man show.
But it's Eric Morecambe everyone wants to see, and it's him that we pretty much get. Tim Whitnall's script borrows heavily from the Morecambe and Wise shows' best-remembered lines, while cracking through the history, so the relative lack of drama in Morecambe's life - save for the heart problems that ended it - isn't the narrative problem it could have been; while Guy Masterson's assured direction keeps the homage bouncing along.
That's all it is, a homage, so don't go expecting anything weightier. But Golding's captures Eric's child-like qualities so exquisitely - especially that silliness and an over-eagerness to please - that this is the closest you'll get to seeing one of the greatest of the comedy greats live. The standing ovation was well deserved for Golding's virtuoso performance, but much of it was surely directed at a much-missed idol, too. (Steve Bennett - Chortle, 11/12/09)
Bob Golding has the job of his dreams, according to the programme notes. Watching hours and hours and hours of archive material by one of, if not THE, funniest men ever to grace our stage and screen seems like an easier-than-drinking task to me. However, after observing about 30 seconds of the man picked to portray the genius of Eric Bartholomew (or 'Jifflearse' as his Mum christened him), I was in fits of laughter before realising that Golding has worked his proverbials off for this part. 'Wahey!', as Eric would no doubt have said.
'Morecambe' is that rare breed of biographical account - it is a celebration rather than a dissection of a much-loved public figure. There was no malice, no smut, no alcoholism, no controversy in Eric, just a love and a desire to make people happy. But he had one weakness - his heart. It was the very thing that, ultimately and sadly, drove him to his death (his 'Achilles heart', he named it), yet he wouldn't let it beat him. Instead he and his life-long comedy partner (and stooge for numerous gags and onstage ad-libs), Ernie Wise became the most successful duo in comedy history.
Refreshingly, the whole mood of the one-man performance is one of positive thinking (the name of one of their earlier songs) and laughter. No period is dwelt on for too long, in fact I learnt a lot about the double act throughout the play, the main thing being that during Morecambe's first heart relapse, Wise would ensure that any money made from the pair's name was sent to him during his illness. Their platonic love for each other was obvious to all who watched their successful TV shows, but probably wasn't considered in real life. Morecambe also loved his wife Joan and his parents with undeniable loyalty, respectfully touched on here without any schmaltz or sugary-coating.
Many familiar sketches and gags are subtly re-enacted by Golding to perfection. The famous 'Breakfast Scene' that originally featured the deft slicing and fevered juicing of grapefruits, was duly replaced by Eric tossing his pill-medication into his mouth, the man making light of his ailment to the strains of 'The Stripper'. The audience clapped every familiar quip or catchphrase with glee. I actually lost control of my tear-ducts during the 'Andre Previn' recital where Morecambe ' Wise try to belittle the talents of one of the greatest conductors and arrangers of all time. 'I'm playing all the right notes - but not necessarily in the right order'. Even the simple visual gag of Eric holding an open paper bag in one hand, tossing an imaginary coin or ball up in the air, watching it's flight path into the bag and clicking the bag with one finger to suggest its successful 'landing', caused hysterics. Of course, he asked the audience the all-important question at one point:
"What do you think of it so far?" - At this point the entire theatre hall (bar one grumpy journo nearby) shouted "rubbish!".
The real genius with Golding though, is his attention to detail, not only with the Morecambe impression but other characters portrayed. Lou Grade and Eddie Braben (TV moguls who signed the duo up at various points) are played with a twinkle in the eye and his impression of Bruce Forsyth frankly shames Jon Culshaw's attempts on the current Impressions show. Remember, this whole play is acted out by one person (and a ventriloquist's dummy as Ernie) - no mean feat.
The play comes to a close with the sad passing of the poorly comic and yet another timely gag in the face of adversity. An ambulance siren forms part of the aural background during his final attack, to which Morecambe observes, 'he'll never sell ice creams at that speed'. Laughs to the very last breath.
I defy anyone with a pulse to come away from this amazing performance without having at least cried once - and I mean tears of joy not sadness. I tire of some of the unfunny idiots on the circuit at the moment - this is a masterclass in true comedy, without resorting to profanity at every turn. The best show I have ever seen. And I said that without moving my lips...... (Paul Pledger - Allgigs.com, 12/12/09)
AS THE lights faded to black at the Duchess theatre last night the audience rose as one to its feet in tribute to a remarkable performance.
In Guy Masterson's excellently directed Morecambe, Bob Golding does more than impersonate the man - he inhabits him.
Tim Whitnall wrote the show for Golding, a friend of long standing, and it began life on the Edinburgh Fringe, where it was one of the biggest hits of the 2009 festival, playing to sell out houses, garnering rave reviews and winning a Fringe First Award. It now arrives in the West End for a 6 week season before setting off on a 120 date tour.
The play takes us on a whistle stop tour of Morecambe's life, from early success in talent shows, on to meeting Ernie, through National Service as a Bevan Boy down the mines (where the heart condition that would eventually kill him first surfaced), on across the years of Variety, through to the triumphant success of the Morecambe and Wise television series that became a national institution and made Eric a national treasure.
GREAT COMIC INSTINCT - Portraying a national treasure is a risky business, but Golding pulls it off completely. If the evening was just a collection of Morecambe's mannerisms and re-creation of Eric and Ernie's routines, it would be a disappointment. Golding's performance encompasses much more than this - not least because of the number of other characters he brings to life in the show.
At one point a beautifully judged Bruce Forsyth suddenly appears from thin air, Michael Grade, Lew Grade, Eddie Braben and a host of others flash by as Morecambe's life unfolds. Golding is clearly also blessed with great comic instinct and ability in his own right, combined with a strong singing voice. He's not a bad hoofer either.
But what of the most important character in Eric's life? Ernie Wise. How do you make a one-man show about half of a double-act? How do you put Ernie up there on the stage?
The device used is very simple and totally successful. I won't spoil the surprise by giving away how it's done, but it is carried off beautifully and allows a very tender and touching moment towards the end of the evening. Indeed, it is a real achievement of the direction and writing that pathos and comedy are perfectly balanced as the play approaches its inevitable conclusion.
RUTHLESS WORK ETHIC - Key to Morecambe and Wise's success was a ruthless work ethic. They would rehearse and rehearse until they got it perfect. To an audience it looked effortless, but the ease and relaxation came from putting in the hours of preparation. This tribute to Morecambe's life has clearly gone through the same process. The production is seamless, sound is handled particularly well and James Compton (Sound Designer) deserves a particular mention.
Pacing throughout is ferociously fast and if there is a criticism of the production it would be that we skate across the surface of Morecambe's life, without really revealing any depths. Maybe he didn't have them. He spent his life making people laugh - maybe that was all he wanted to do.
At the end of this engaging and entertaining show, do I know much more about Morecambe the man? Not a lot. Does it matter? Not a jot. (Abigail Sharp 11/12/09)
In May 1984 Eric Morecambe gave the turn of his life and took six curtain calls at the Roses Theatre in Tewkesbury, before suffering a heart attack moments later backstage.
With his final words to the audience being "That's your lot!" there might have been something incredibly poetic about his death, had it not occurred at the tragically young age of 58.
Following on from this moment, Tim Whitnall's one-man show Morecambe, first seen at this year's Edinburgh Fringe, shows Eric Morecambe arriving at the 'theatre in the sky'.
Under a proscenium arch sporting his trademark spectacles and pipe amidst its motifs, Eric unpacks his props, dusts off the couch and drinks trolley, and proceeds to relate the story of his life, recalling his journey from Lancashire lad to Britain's best love comedian.
That the show comes across as so straight forward only reveals how cleverly it has been constructed, and how well Bob Golding pulls off the part of Eric Morecambe. There is something breathtakingly effortless in the way that he flits between addressing the audience in a storytelling manner, putting on a direct performance as he utters the comedy lines, and impersonating the other characters who crop up in Eric's life.
Indeed, as Golding fiddles with his glasses and clutches at his lapels, all with the goofy grin that alludes to so much more, he ceases to play a part and, quite simply, becomes Eric Morecambe.
Just as intriguing, however, is the way that Eric's partner of nearly fifty years, Ernie Wise, is portrayed as a ventriloquist's dummy that Eric operates. Since the show reveals just how close the pair was, this form of portrayal was probably chosen simply because it supported the one-man show concept. In another sense, however, it does imply that Ernie was merely a puppet within the duo, in that I doubt anyone would consider making a West End show just about him.
Structurally, the show is sometimes too smooth as the short bursts of singing and dancing feel as measured out as the rest of the script. It could perhaps do with a few more moments when Morecambe can really indulge in a full blown, all-singing, all-dancing routine.
In addition, whilst many comic geniuses have inner demons, Eric's seem surprisingly straight forward when compared with Tony Hancock's. For Morecambe, making people laugh was so much second nature, that his fear of failure was simply the fear of not having the opportunities to do just that. As a result, though we feel for him when we learn that he never really conquered America and that his films were largely flops, there is not quite enough tragedy here from a dramatic perspective, given that he was such a tremendous success.
Nevertheless, Morecambe remains an intelligent and entertaining show, and as the audience applauds Eric's famous "All the right notes" line, and laughs before he has even performed his paper bag trick, it feels like a highly fitting tribute to one of Britain's best loved comedians. If only he hadn't died so young. (Sam Smith 11/12/09)
Shorts from the Edinburgh Fringe 2009
"Wonderful... Exceptional... Slick, perfectly judged... Incredibly emotional... Bob Golding... just like the real thing then..."
THE DAILY TELEGRAPH
A tour de force... Golding gives it his all..."
THE SCOTSMAN - Fringe First Award Winner
A triumph... Stellar... Remarkable... Magnificent... Bob Golding deserves combat pay for playing a national treasure... I laughed and cried..."
"Bob Golding captures the spirit of Eric in his brown paper bag and doesn't let go... Fantastic... The performance of a lifetime... Heartfelt... Charismatic... All the right notes..."
"Brilliant exposition... brought superbly to life by Bob Golding... Almost as if himself Eric was there... Quite breathtaking... A truly inspirational piece of theatre... Whatever you are doing, stop it now and go and see this show!"
"A true gem of a show... A brilliantly constructed portrayal... Entertains right to the end... Puts a smile on everyone's face!"
BRITISH THEATRE GUIDE
"A stunning performance by Bob Golding... A must-see production..."
"Not to be missed!"
WHAT'S ON STAGE
"Unforgettable... A great biography..."
"Hilarious and loving... A shower of laughter... A fitting tribute... Essential viewing..."
"A show stopping performance by Bob Golding..."
"All singing, all dancing, all fooling... A pipe-smoking thumbs-up... Impossible not to be infected..."
"Bob Golding has got Eric down to a 'T', Ern... Astounding... Hits the spot perfectly... An evocative, nostalgic biography..."
ONE FOUR REVIEW
"A fitting tribute"
THE STAGE (MUST SEE)
"Impeccable comic timing... Beautifully crafted... Tight, quick-paced and inventive... Visually engaging... Golding is compelling... A wonderful piece of theatre, a trip down memory lane..."
THE EDINBURGH BLOG
"A fabulous performance by Bob Golding... A quite brilliant performance... Perfection... Jubilant... Rubbish? NOT! A must see!"