THE PLAY WHAT I WROTE
The REP, Birmingham, Monday 6th December, 2021
In years gone by, the Morecambe & Wise special was a staple and indeed highlight of Christmas telly, replete with sketches, songs, dressing-up, attempts at high drama, and surprise celebrity guests. Therefore, the 20th anniversary production of this play is an excellent choice for the Rep’s seasonal show this year.
All the elements you expect are in play. Our hosts are a double act, with one taller than the other, but Dennis Herdman and Thom Tuck aren’t impersonating Morecambe & Wise, although they inhabit a very Morecambe & Wise world. Herdman is loose and lanky, born for physical comedy, while Tuck’s pompous outbursts make him an ideal straight man—well, they’re both really funny in their own right. They are supported by a hardworking Mitesh Soni, as Arthur (yes, he of the harmonica) who plays most of the other parts, including a hilarious turn as Scarlett Johannsen. So, it’s more of a triple than a double act. The first half is full of quickfire sketches, silliness and tearing around. There is some excuse of a plot, with Tuck refusing to do a Morecambe & Wise show, preferring instead to stage a play what he wrote. Of course, by the interval, he capitulates, and the second half is pure M&W.
The show is famous for having a secret surprise celebrity guest every night. I remember yonks ago being tickled to see Dennis Waterman join in the fun, but tonight we are treated to none other than the God of Mischief himself, Tom Hiddleston! It’s a genuine thrill to see him walk on, in his French aristocrat costume ready for the high drama, and to take Herdman’s Eric-like abuse on the chin. Hiddleston goes on to further prove what a good sport he is, throwing himself whole-heartedly into Tuck’s Scarlet Pimpernel play, bringing gravitas to the execrable dialogue and joining in the singing and dancing and dressing-up with gusto. Hiddleston brings pure delight to the proceedings, playing it exactly right, and I think just about everyone in the auditorium fell in love with him. I know I did.
Director Sean Foley is clearly an aficionado of the source material, putting the cast through all the comic business with an expert eye for timing and silliness. Nothing feels strained or overwrought, even though the performances are big and daft. The evening is tinged with nostalgia as we are reminded about the genius of the great pair, and of course it’s all rounded off with a rendition of Bring Me Sunshine and the signature skipping off into the wings.
A proper laugh-out-loud evening of unadulterated joy.
Exhilarating and not ‘ruggish’ at all.