Review: An Evening of Eric & Ern, New Theatre, Cardiff

In comedy, trends come and go, but the magic of Britain’s greatest-ever double act, Morecambe and Wise has endured. The humour and comedy routines of Eric and Ernie are no strangers to Cardiff’s New Theatre, the legendary duo first appeared there as part of a variety bill in 1950 and made several return appearances including week-long stints at the peak of their television fame in 1968 and 1973.

On Wednesday evening, the magic of Eric and Ern took to the stage once again, courtesy of actors Jonty Stephens and Ian Ashpitel, who have starred in west-end shows and toured the UK as Eric and Ernie respectively for several years.

In An Evening of Eric & Ern, Stephens and Ashpitel’s resemblance to the comedy duo goes beyond the trademark suits, glasses and not been able to see the join! Both actors have studied Eric and Ernie’s chemistry and delivery to a point that the magic spills over and pulls the audience in on a sunshine journey of fun and laughter.

All the classic gags are there, including Des O’Connor references, Eric’s recital of Shakespeare, Ernie impersonating Sammy Davis Jr, paper bag tricks, Mr. Memory and Eric’s attempt at ventriloquism.

A police siren screams past off-stage as Stephens utters Eric’s immortal line, “He’s not going to sell many ice-cream’s going at that speed!” The house erupts with laughter.  “It’s as if they knew what I was going to say,” Stephens’ Eric responds as he gestures to the audience, before Ashpitel’s Ern concludes, ”..and some of them even said it for you!”

To heighten the classic element further, the show also featured a special guest in the form of Cardiff’s own music and stage star, Stephanie Webber. Looking elegant in an evening dress, Miss Webber’s take on Send in The Clowns was sent up in true Eric and Ernie style as Stephens and Ashpitel, camouflaged as clowns, adorned her with sausage-shaped balloons. This followed a moment worthy of an original Morecambe & Wise TV show, in which a technical problem resulted in Miss Webber’s microphone not working correctly (even though she could still be heard up in the circle!).  The second half allowed Miss Webber to take to the stage once again, (this time uninterrupted) and perform a stunning rendition of the Cilla Black classic, You’re My World.

The finest of Eric and Ernie’s sketches, the Grieg Piano Concerto was also performed, with a dedication at the beginning to the late conductor, Andre Previn (or Andrew Preview) who appeared in the sketch with the duo for their 1971 Christmas Special.  Stephens and Ashpitel’s on-stage recreation like the original, played “all the right notes but not necessarily in the right order!” and received a huge applause from the audience.

It was an incredible feeling to not only hear my own, but also everybody else’s laughter as Stephens and Ashpitel returned the magic of Morecambe and Wise to the New Theatre stage for the 21st Century. Fittingly they ended with Eric and Ernie’s signature tune, Bring Me Sunshine and without a doubt, they did bring plenty of sunshine and laughter for everyone in the house!

As Eric Morecambe might have said himself, “Knockout!”

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